Scranton Today wants to continue operating PEG channel
By PAUL TUCKER
SCRANTON, Karen Bazzarri, President of Scranton Today, said the organization would like to continue operating the Scranton Community Access Television station’s Channel 61 and 62. She said the organization will do “whatever” is necessary to operate the stations. Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty recently indicated the city is accepting proposals for the operation of the stations.
Scranton Today is a nonprofit organization that was formed for educational purposes to televise live and taped meetings of Scranton City Council, the Scranton Sewer Authority, the Scranton Planning Commission, the Zoning Board, the Scranton School Board, Lackawanna County Commissioners, and various other boards, commissions, bureaus and departments doing the people’s business along with affording coverage of educational and cultural events occurring within the community.
According to the Franchise Agreement between the City of Scranton and the cable television operator Verto Corporation, now Comcast, which took effect on January 1st, 1995, a Public, Educational and Government (PEG) channel must be provided from its current activated number of channels to be used for the purpose of public education. Under the agreement, obtained by the newspaper, if and when during the term of the franchise agreement the cable operator activates more channels additional PEG stations can be added providing a minimum of programming is achieved.
The contract does not expire until December 31st, 2009. The fifteen year agreement was negotiated by former Scranton Mayor James Connors.
Mr. Connors told the newspaper it took several years for the PEG channel to be operational after reaching the agreement. He said Father Joe Quinn of Scranton Tomorrow asked if the community organization could operate the channel. Mr. Connors stated he agreed providing events would not be censored. “I believe in transparency and open government. I wanted the people of the city to see their government in action, not censored in anyway.”
Karen Bazzarri believes Scranton Today has done a great job of televising government and cultural events in Scranton and throughout Lackawanna County, with a very small annual budget. During a interview at the newspaper she said Scranton Today’s budget is less than $100,000 a year, employing two paid workers and operating on the help of volunteers. “I’m not being told anything. I think this is about wanting to control the programing and the message,” said Mrs. Bazzarri when asked if she knew why apparently Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty doesn’t want her organization to continue to operate the PEG channel.
Mr. Connors thinks the current operators are doing a good job of broadcasting government meetings uncut and uncensored. “My only complaint is I would like to see more neighborhood meetings broadcast.” He said there are 12 neighborhood groups in Scranton and he thinks many of those meetings should be televised. “The station has been greatly beneficial to the working people, without a doubt.”
Mrs. Bazzarri stated she can’t obtain a copy of the DVD that Mr. Doherty commented about in a December 18th story in the Scranton Times-Tribune. According to the story, a recently formed organization called Electric City TeleVision created a promotional DVD telling how they would operate the PEG channel. Mr. Doherty in the story stated he would like bids to be submitted for the operation of the PEG channel.
Cable Panel Chairman likes current PEG operator
By PAUL TUCKER
Charlie Spano, the Chairman of the panel, established under Section 32 of the agreement, believes the recent decussion of replacing Scranton Today as the PEG channel’s operator has more to do with control of the content of information than wanting to improve the programming.
“There no doubt in my mind. Some programming, especially the council meetings, have caused discomfort for some and they want it stopped,” said Mr. Spano.
He compared the live and taped broadcasts of government meetings by Scranton Today as the same as C-Span television. “Government is not always pretty. But people have the right to see it, warts and all,” added Mr. Spano.
Mr. Spano believes other groups or organizations can negotiate with the cable provider, Comcast Cable, and be granted a PEG channel as long as certain conditions are met, including providing at least 70 hours of programming a week.
Karen Bazzarri, President of Scranton Today, told the newspaper the organization never refused to broadcast a program produced and created by any person or group. “It’s the law. We must show the program. If someone stated a program broadcast was denied by us, it’s not true,” stated Mrs. Bazzarri.
According to Section 6 of the agreement, the cable operator pays Scranton five percent of their annual gross receipts in what is called a Franchise Fee, which is put into the city’s general fund. Mrs. Bazzarri said it is common for a municipality to convert some of the fee to help operate a PEG channel. “PEG’s are operating for the public good. Uncensored, government meetings are needed for a strong democracy,” said Mrs. Bazzarri. However, Scranton does not allocate any of the money received from Comcast to help in the operation of the PEG channel.