May 29, 2019

The Critical Importance of Maintaining Community TV’s Free Public Access

To the Editor:

Princeton Community TV (PCTV) is another of Princeton’s jewels in jeopardy. It broadcasts on Comcast Channel 30 and Verizon FIOS Channel 45. Many people don’t fully appreciate its importance. When cablevision was set up, in return for the use of the public right-of-way for hanging its cable, it was agreed that cable television would pay a “rental fee,” and that free public and governmental access channels would be supported by this fee.

When cablevision came into its own, I was very aware of all this because my Dad, Bill Cherry, was a physicist at RCA who had worked on the color TV, and he was also a member of Township Committee. He was chosen to become chair of the Cable TV Committee and to negotiate an agreement for free public access, which has been in place ever since. Over the dinner table, my Dad would talk about the importance of public access as a source of freedom of speech and discourse about all kinds of issues.

When I returned to Princeton in 2000, I was very impressed with the amount of programming and creativity at PCTV, and for the opportunity for citizens to be heard. At that time there were around 200 shows taped per year. Now PCTV tapes about 650 individual shows per year on all sorts of topics. Most are interview programs, but the wildest is the popular Zombie Etiquette program, where “high-functioning zombies” wearing make-up comment cogently on a variety of topics.

Over the years I, myself, have been interviewed on several topics by different moderators. And I remember each time, being impressed with the people waiting in the “Green Room” for their taping. I remember local pastors and rabbis; mayors and members of Council, not just from Princeton but from surrounding communities; movie critics, and citizens with a wide variety of expertise and perspectives. Popular shows have included Back Story with Joan Goldstein, Perdidos in America, Education Roundtable, Breezing with Bierman, and many others. And PCTV has easy-to-use cameras to lend out, along with camera training, editing, lighting and sound production; there are many opportunities for those interested in videography.

With consolidation, PCTV was asked to pay rent out of their cable income and then to become a 501(c)(3). Then the Council indicated that it wanted to redirect some of the cable fees to the town treasury, and then ALL the fees. I hope that the current impasse can be resolved and that our town will continue to support PCTV’s free public access by passing through much of the cable fees as originally intended.

The fact is that if we don’t continue to direct cable fees to support public access, the cable industry has begun to say that maybe then the industry should stop paying these fees. Let’s not shut the door on one of the key avenues of community discourse, but instead expand and promote its programming. I urge Princeton Council to continue working on an agreement with PCTV.

Kip Cherry
Dempsey Avenue