Public-access television has been around almost as long as cable-TV companies have been offering their services. Thanks to FCC requirements and franchise agreements, most cable companies set aside at least one channel designated for public access. In Cape Girardeau County, Charter Communications Inc. now provides two channels, one for city government and public-access programming and another for school programming.
Channel 5 has been around for years. Under the supervision of the city and its Cable Television Committee, the channel has mostly been a bulletin board for meetings of city government and events sponsored by clubs and organizations. However, more and more programs are being aired on Channel 5, some produced under city auspices and some provided by the public.
Naturally, the city has guidelines for what can be shown on Channel 5.
Commercial advertising, fund raising, gambling and obscenity are not permitted. But Cape Girardeau residents can submit videotapes for airing on Channel 5 through the city's public information officer, Tracey Glenn.
Meanwhile, the Cape Girardeau School District's Career and Technology Center has started operating an education-access channel, Channel 23. This channel not only provides information about the school district and some specially produced programming, it also fits well with learning opportunities for students who want to get basic training in video and TV production.
Both Channel 5 and Channel 23 are funded in large part by a portion of each bill paid by cable customers. Five percent of each bill goes to the city.
In other cities with public-access TV -- generally larger cities with diverse interests and resources -- public channels, along with education and government channels, have become important media outlets thanks to original programming and careful tending to public requests to air programs.
The channels here certainly have a huge potential to become important sources of information and for the sharing of programming that would otherwise have no way of reaching local viewers.
With the addition of classes at the career center and the addition of a well-versed faculty member, Randy McWilson, there is a lot of potential for first-rate public-access programs. One example was last year's communitywide reading project. Part of that project included the videotaping of community members who read chapters from "A Painted House." Those videotapes were then broadcast on Channel 5.
Projects like this can go a long way toward enhancing community life. It will be interesting to see what budding TV producers come up with.