I was a producer at URTV for a year, for the show A Question of Meaning. I greatly valued the opportunity to broadcast ideas to the Asheville area. It fast became clear that URTV was in trouble, and that a lot of the trouble had to do with the director. I haven’t said anything publicly before now because I felt the future of public access television in Asheville depended on the complete demise of WNC Community Media Center, the nonprofit group that ran URTV.
From my experience, WNCCMC was hobbled by (among other things) a culture of secrecy, which extended to the producers. We were told we weren’t qualified to know any details about what was going on, right up to the day we were told the nonprofit was shutting down.
I was dismayed by the confusion that Mr. Bowen described in his article, “Out of Service,” in the May 25 Xpress: the mistaken belief that WNCCMC is public access. WNCCMC was a private organization given a contract to administer Buncombe County’s public access channel. They have failed in that task, and Asheville City Council has indicated that they want to hear proposals for a new group to take over the channel.
Mr. Bowen refers his readers to Wikipedia to learn about public access; it seems simple enough to me: cable television uses the public right-of-way for its transmission cables. The right-of-way belongs to all of us. Our local government, acting as our agent, lets certain companies use this public property and demands responsibilities in return. One of these is payment of fees/taxes to the government; another is the provision of a public access channel. Public access television is not freedom of speech as some supporters of URTV have erroneously claimed; it is the people claiming one channel for ourselves as part of the price for the cable companies’ existence.
Charter and AT&T don’t have a choice about this. The only question is whether Asheville, as a community, cares enough to pick ourselves up from the ashes of the WNCCMC debacle and keep public access alive.
— Kathleen Brugger