West Allis media center says city has tuned out Channel 14

C.T. Kruger
Matthew Naus and other supporters of West Allis Open Access Channel 14 pictet in front of West Allis City Hall during the Ala Carte event in protest of the City's decision to defund the cable channel.
Published on: 6/5/2012

West Allis - While the Community Media Center folks who do programming for Public Access Channel 14 are more used to covering community events, they became part of an event Sunday at West Allis Ala Carte.

The group picketed at City Hall, protesting the city's refusal to share funding it gets from cable companies.

Sharing that money would make the difference between the media center's survival and Channel 14 going dark after some 30 years.

"I've lived here all my life, and it puts a bad mark on West Allis," said Sharon Rhode, president of the Community Media Center board of directors.

The city got $720,000 in franchise fees this year from Time Warner Cable and AT&T U-verse. The media center is asking for $50,000 to enable it to keep going with volunteers, Rhode said, adding that the center could keep its studio if the city shared $100,000.

Without any money coming in, the media center will shut down at the end of the month, and must be out of the building it rents by the end of July, she said.

The city is using $365,000 of the $720,000 cable revenue to operate Government Access Channel 25. The remaining $355,000 went into the city's general fund to pay for city services, said Jerry Musial, video/cable communications coordinator.

"We'd love to be able to help them," Mayor Dan Devine said. "But it's an incredibly tight (city) budget."

"If it comes down to another police officer or Channel 14, people would rather have the police officer," Devine said.

The funding problem arose because the state Legislature basically abrogated communities' cable franchise agreements. In West Allis, the agreement required cable companies to provide $200,000 for public and educational access in addition to franchise fees, Musial said. Time Warner Cable took the $1.02 community access fee off customers' bills last August/September, he said.

The media center used the cable company funding to train people interested in providing Channel 14 programming and give them a studio and equipment to tape shows.

Channel 14 has given people a voice not only in local programming but in the local political arena, Rhode said. The channel now carries a political commentary show along with entertainment offerings.

All that will soon be silenced, Rhode said.

Devine said political views will still be heard. People can speak at Common Council meetings, which are televised on Channel 25, managed by city workers, and there are also opportunities through social networking, he added.

But Rhode noted that Channel 14 does the heavy lifting when it comes to televising community events such as parades, West Allis Ala Carte, the annual car show and even political debates.