The Importance of Public Access TV
On a local level, town governments and school districts make so many decisions that impact our day-to-day lives — not just in East Hampton but in townships and villages across the country.
Here in East Hampton, Local TV Inc. is a portal for residents to connect with their town governments and school boards by watching public meetings on TV. They can also express their own views, interests, and creative selves with their own original TV programming. LTV takes it a step further with online video-on-demand services as well.
But why is public access television so important?
In most cases, it’s a source of raw information that is highly pertinent to people’s lives, accessible for anyone who has a TV and the most basic of cable plans. It’s a form of freedom of expression, solidified through agreements with big cable companies that normally have to negotiate with municipalities to be the sole provider of cable access. In many places where the county or town allowed that company to move in, “PEG” channels were born, meaning “public, educational, and government” channels.
“In every single state, a portion of the population doesn’t have access to broadband, and some have no access to the internet at all,” the blog Motherboard wrote in April of 2018. A 2015 American Community Survey said that only 77 percent of U.S. households had internet access. That number has probably changed since then, but it still underscores a problem with equal access. And several years ago, in a Huffington Post article, a public television executive wrote that “polls consistently show . . . more than 51% of American adults still cite the television as their primary source for news and information.”
Let’s summarize: Not everyone can afford high-speed internet, and a lot of people mainly get their news from TV.
“LTV is really a community-based operation,” says Diana Weir, who chair’s LTV’s board of directors. “We tape every possible thing the town or the village wants us to tape, to keep people informed. You can be in your home watching what the elected officials are doing.”
A former town board member, Ms. Weir remembers a time when people would come rushing into Town Hall for public commentary because they’d been watching the meeting on TV and saw something that inspired them to speak up.
The government and school meetings are all on Channel 22. Channel 20 “is a way for the community to really reveal themselves and talk about themselves,” Ms. Weir says. “There are so many things to give. History, context, election coverage, there’s so much that keeps your local community abreast of what’s happening. Channel 12 is great, but that’s for all of Long Island. Here is an opportunity for people to know what’s happening locally.”
PEG channels are not a guarantee, and in many places they have been disappearing. Or, their signals have been collapsed into groups of channels that make them virtually impossible for people to find, as has happened upstate. “PEG TV stations need to be treated fairly, not with discrimination,” writes John Schroth, director of ERCN in East Rochester. “At the top of the list of grievances, we need to be moved back down to our old channel designations and nested with all the other local programming where the community can easily find us and get the valuable local government information we provide.”
Public access TV is democracy in action, and in times of crisis, can play an even more important role.
“LTV has long been a critical resource, providing coverage of government meetings and community events, and it is now playing an even more important role during the coronavirus pandemic by distributing timely information to our citizens,” says East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc. “With its new ‘Facts at Five’ information show, the ongoing news crawl on the screen, and in adapting to changing needs, such as by providing the town board the ability to hold video-conference meetings remotely, LTV has really stepped up for the East Hampton community and continues to be an important partner in helping us to keep our residents informed.”