Tucson’s public access television channel may go dark within weeks.
Access Tucson will close its doors to the public at the end of May, executive director Lisa Horner announced.
That means no more media classes, no checking out cameras and gear, and no public use of the broadcast studio.
The nonprofit relies heavily on a city contract paid from cable television companies’ licensing fees. The organization has been trying to make it through the full fiscal year on half a year’s income, Horner said, but the $150,000 is nearly gone.
The station will air pre-taped programs through June or until its money runs out, and then it will go off the air, said board chairwoman Joan Hall.
“A message will be programmed on the channel informing viewers why they are no longer able to see the wide spectrum of vibrant content they once enjoyed,” Horner said in her announcement.
The decision was made by the Access Tucson board last week. The board hopes dead air time will be temporary.
The city’s draft budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 doesn’t include any money for Channel 20, known as Access Tucson, or for Channel 12, known as the City Channel.
Instead the city has issued a request for proposals for a new Community Media Center that would combine both operations under one contractor. Proposals are due to the city in June.
Horner said the request for proposals issued by the city is “underfunded and overreaching,” and doesn’t seem to take seriously the mission of community media.
The city wants to provide startup funding of up to $300,000 a year for two years.
After that, the city would contract with the center for specific services like producing and broadcasting City Council meetings and creating ads marketing Tucson as a business destination.
The city doesn’t seem to have a clear idea of what they are asking for or what the selection criteria should be, Horner said. “It seems like they are shopping and they will know it when they see it,” she said.
Still, Access Tucson is drafting a proposal and trying to match the budget numbers to the plan, Hall said.
Access Tucson is also making one last plea to the city manager’s office to provide month-to-month funding until a contractor has been selected for the Community Media Center, but Access Tucson isn’t the only bidder for that contract. Hall said she doesn’t know how feasible temporary funding is, but “it never hurts to ask.”
City Budget Director Joyce Garland said the city manager didn’t recommend any funding for Access Tucson next fiscal year, so the only way for the group to get money is for the City Council to direct staff to include payments in the budget.
Horner is asking public access supporters to attend a city budget hearing on June 9 and wear purple.
“The most important thing is we’ve been very privileged to serve this community, and we would like to continue to do so,” Horner said.