Cincinnati Will Not Fund Local Public, Education Channel

The director for Media Bridges, the organization that manages Cincinnati’s public and education cable television channels, is pessimistic about the channel’s future following a meeting Friday with the mayor who said the city will not fund the channels.
            Tom Bishop, Media Bridges’ executive director, met with Mayor Mark Mallory and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls to discuss the possibility of the city partially funding the organization. Mallory said that Cincinnati’s City Council will not “shift any funds from the general fund” to support Media Bridges, Bishop told Government Video.
            However, Bishop added that Qualls, who is also the head of the budget committee, provided “one ray of hope” when she said her staff is researching alternative sources of funding for Media Bridges.
            The $498,000 to fund the operation has previously been drawn from cable franchise fees ($300,000) and directly from Time Warner Cable ($198,000), but that money will not be available in 2013 because state law ended all funding for public, education and government channel on Jan. 1, 2012. In addition, cable operators and telephone companies can charge to transmit PEG channels.
            Despite the setback, Bishop says he and Media Bridges’ supporters will continue lobbying lawmakers. That includes a campaign urging viewers to show support for the channel by contacting local lawmakers. “We have another week,” he said. “We will keep people calling and writing to their council people. We are more than willing to work with anybody on council or the mayor’s office who has an idea. We’re all ears.”
            The campaign includes having as many residents as possible attend a Dec. 10 public hearing the city scheduled on funding for Media Bridges. At a hearing held Dec. 6 on the plan to partially fund the public and education channels, over 20 people spoke in support of city funding for Media Bridges.
            In addition, the city budget committee has scheduled a work session Dec. 13, with a second planned for the morning of Dec. 14. The full council is scheduled to vote on the partial funding proposal during the afternoon of Dec. 14.
            “What I’ve been getting from council, is they support us,” Bishop said. “In fact, I haven’t had a single council member say that they didn’t support us as long as the mayor finds the money,” he said. “And now the mayor is turning around and blaming city council, saying there’s not the will to find the money in the general fund. It sounds like the usual dance,” he said.
            If funding is not restored at the Dec. 14 vote, Media Bridges’ future depends on how much money is left in the existing resources that fund the organization – and how the city decides to allocate it, Bishop says. However, he anticipates the organization will not survive for long without new funding.  
            “Basically, we will run out on our reserves sometime in the first quarter, and we’ll probably have to shut down operations before then because we will need time to shut down, sell-off resources, pay off leases,” he said. “We’re like any business; we have obligations that we need to maintain.”
            PEG channels need to be vigilant about their financial situations, especially funding streams, and station officials need to act quickly at the first sign of a problem, according to Bishop. “If you see it coming down the road, as soon as you see it, you need to get in front of it,” he said. “That’s what we did. When we were first notified, we started working with the city manager’s office and the council’s offices and the mayor’s office.”
            Even though Bishop is frustrated with the situation, he made a point of saying Mallory was “sympathetic” to Media Bridges’ situation. The mayor was “classy” and a “stand-up guy” for taking the time to warn Media Bridges that the city probably will not fund the channel, says Bishop, who notes that the city is “in a tough position” because its own funding was cut by Ohio’s state government.

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