Grand Jury blames lack of oversight for MCTV’s poor quality programming


Posted by on Fri, July 10, 2009

The county’s Civil Grand Jury says that because the county, which charters MCTV, has not exercised its oversight of the public channel the result has been poor quality programming, a failure to communicate with the community, restriction of reuse of programs it produces with public money, and the elimination of a public voice in the station’s management.

The Grand Jury recommends that the county and Half Moon Bay (which provides the station with cable fees) "initiate engaged oversight in the areas of station revenue, quality of programs, and relevance to the community." From the findings:

The majority of MCTV broadcast programming is archival in nature, often obtained from sources outside the community, and is aired repeatedly.  The overwhelming majority of MCTV produced programming is of regularly scheduled government meetings.  Some new programming produced by others in the community and offered to MCTV has been rejected on technical grounds and occasionally for reasons of religious advocacy. ...

The Directors and Station Manager of MCTV acted on April 30, 2009 to eliminate the category of membership, as well as all rights associated with membership through a bylaw change.  The MCTV Board absorbed these rights, and became a self-perpetuating governing body.  It initiated this action, in part, to eliminate the burden of dissent from the membership.

In April, MCTV eliminated the rights of all members and made its board of directors self-appointing.

We’ll be writing more about this, but in the meantime, you can read the Grand Jury’s report.

Full disclosure: In 2008, I ran for a seat on MCTV’s board as part of a reform slate and lost to a board-nominated slate. More on that later, too.


Barry: How can the community suggest programming of a local nature to MCTV?
Is there a formal process? Is there a person one can talk to about this matter? Or are we just left to be frustrated by the obvious as the Grand Jury declared, and will the matter just go away once the news dies down?
I would appreciate any suggestions on whom to suggest local programming to…..if anyone exists to communicate with.
Thanks for the story.
stephen martin

The first challenge is finding someone to talk to. The MCTV office in El Granada is not staffed for regular office hours, the phone always rolls over to voice mail, and MCTV management and board don’t always answer their email.

I have asked MCTV for information on their process and criteria for accepting content, but my requests have been ignored.

I know people whose requests to air existing quality videos about the Coastside have been turned down with the excuse that MCTV doesn’t have time on their schedule. Really.

Now that it is impossible for Coastsiders to run for the MCTV board, we have no voice in the station’s management and no way to be heard.

Unless the county and city force the station to open up, this situation will not improve.  If you live in the Midcoast, contact Supervisor Gordon and let him know what you think. If you live in Half Moon Bay, contact both Supervisor Gordon and one or members of the city council.

The station definitely needs new blood, fresh ideas, and COMMUNITY input - not the stale re-runs which are currently offered. It would greatly benefit those who pay for sponsorship on the station, for sure.  It is about time that the Grand Jury has made a decision on this. Now we just have to see where it goes from here.  My email to Supervisor Gordon is on its way.

Well I have to say when I first read this, I though it was a joke from Coastsider to ME!

Let me explain…in April of 2008, I was asked by a good friend to meet with Connie Malach, president of MCTV to talk with her about ideas on improving the TV station. We had weekly meetings where I created a marketing plan, an issues log, notes and agendas for meetings, researched several other PEG stations for comparison, attended a chamber meeting to market the station, requested a new logo and marketing specialties, asked for the web site to be fixed (lots of bugs and errors including Ms. Malach’s name misspelled), brainstormed on how to get new programming into the station, created rates for sponsorship, talked about how to increase business and individual memberships, recommended that MCTV representatives be at local HMB events, and even met with and utilized a film professional and filmed a local event which only aired a few times despite promises to local sponsors that it would air for months. (This came at a time where Ms. Malach’s husband’s law firm sent me a nasty note lashing out at me personally on “law firm” letterhead after I billed for my time and they refused to pay.)

Sadly, each time I facilitated a meeting, the items on the issues log were rarely completed. It was almost like having the same meeting each week. There were station members as well as board members at some meetings as well. Emails were always getting lost, participants on the team were not prepared, and we were getting no where each week. In the real (corporate) world, I would have fired the entire team on the spot.

Then I had the idea to film the Sandy Feet Festival in October 2008, which was supposed to air within 2 weeks of filming. It took MCTV 5-6 months to finalize the production and would not let me contact any sponsors to update them on the status.

I do not think MCTV will change at all with its current management. Connie and her husband, Mike Day – who is the station’s attorney - are in complete control of the station and most of the (former) members are friends and some board members only look at the opportunity to have the position as a “resume booster.” Without fresh faces, nothing will change at MCTV.

One interesting thing I have learned is that the station is entirely programmable with their new technology. Meaning, all Ms. Malach has to do is log on to her computer at home and select the programs to be aired. No need to go into the office! Sounds like the perfect job. And with her spouse making the rules and coming up with the idea to “eliminate members” they are now in complete control and I don’t see this changing. She does not answer emails sent to her by people she doesn’t like so there is no opportunity for growth if you are not in her “circle of friends” - meaning – you voted for her. When I found out members were voting for this elimination, I submitted my check to become a member and she called and told me she was returning it to me and I could not become a member because I was a day late. I did not know I was a day late since there were no public notices of this vote to cut membership…I had found out through another member. And, the web site still listed membership opportunities, which is where I printed the form…the web form remained up days later!

I have never seen that silver Mercedes SUV with the MCTV license plate at any Half Moon Bay public function. I can only wonder how those car expenses are paid.

I sincerely hope someone has the time and makes the effort to change this situation. I believed at the time that MCTV had potential, but after my experience with current management, all I can say is that we will watch that fishing show and 10+ year old programming as long as the station exists.

Good luck with your efforts and I hope to see more than a painting ad and old programs.

Sincerely,
GraceAnn Stewart

Connie Malach sounds like the re-incararnation of “Godmother” Dolores Mullin from Half Moon Bay.

Why on earth is San Mateo County and the City of HMB wasting public money to keep Connie Malach and her husband in business?

Hello, County Supervisor Rich Gordon, are you listening?

Last Tuesday night I did a program with Lynn Ruth Miller in Pacifica for their version of Public TV in the Crespi Center in Linda Mar. Lynn Ruth has a locally produced show called “Between the Sheets” which is very funny and fun to participate in. Lynn and I discussed my new book “The Everything Guide to a Happy Marriage”.

The guest before me was Dr. Deborah Penrose also from Half Moon Bay who discussed her new photography Studio she and three other artists have established on Kelly Ave. I have known Deborah for years and she also had fun doing the show with Lynn Ruth Miller.

This was my third experience doing a local show with Lynn Ruth Miller in Pacifica, and I must say it was fun, vibrant, vital and alive. The studio was worked by at least ten young volunteers (all under thrirty) who I believe were 4-H members. If one is to see how a local free TV program can be run, I suggest you look into Pacifica, in the Crespi Center for an example.

I have been a coastsider for 30 years and I’m certain Debra has been here almost as long as I have. What is a shame is that in order for us to be presented on community TV we have to go to Pacifica, we cannot present in El Granada.

I’m happy going to Pacifica and I’m very content doing local program for Pacifica. But would not it be wonderful if we could have even half of what Pacifica has? I invite everyone to look into the Pacifica example for what is possible. The set up is vital, alive, and filled with enthusiasm, while Half Moon Bay’s community TV is according to all I can discover dead, dead, dead…...

I would love to volunteer doing anything of a psychological nature for Half Moon Bay, but I have no energy to fight the deadness that   GraceAnn Stewart so clearly explained. Why waste time with that which is immobile, intractable, and dead? So I shall continue to do free programming in Pacifica and I just want everyone to know that Half Moon Bay doesn’t have to endure what currently is happening. If Pacifica can have a vital local TV program, so can Half Moon Bay.

Stephen Martin, MFT.

Pacifica’s PEG (Public, Educational, and Government) station looks like a great model:  They have locally produced programming, their website solicits programming and memberships from the community, they keep regular office hours (m-f 1-6), they train community members to create programming, and I am told the televise their own board meetings.

By contrast, MCTV seems particularly joyless. If they had PEG TV in North Korea, it would look a lot like MCTV.

I think we should look into trying to dissolve the MCTV board and merge with the Pacifica’s PEG.

I’d prefer a locally-run organization to merging with Pacifica TV.

Fun Fact: One member of MCTV’s board lives in Pacifica, where she is unable to receive MCTV.

Well, then she should feel ashamed when she watches PEG.

The Daily Journal sort-of covered the Grand Jury report, although it reads like they did a quick cut & paste just before the deadline:

http://smdailyjournal.com/article_preview.php?id=113138

I wrote to Supervisor Gordon (who is planning on taking the seat that Ira Ruskin will be vacating), though am not sure about his priorities concerning this issue.

I don’t know much about these things (obviously), but can a station be voted off the air, and replaced with a new station in its place?  Since Malach & Co. are monopolizing the programming, exclusive to outside input, how can they define themselves as “Public”, and also qualify as a non-profit?  Do they get more than just a tax write-off, or do they receive funding for the station?  Sorry for all the questions, but it is all a bit fuzzy to me as to how they can get away with it all. Not just anyone can broadcast over the air. My brother started a radio station up north 30 years ago (KMUD radio), and it took some doing.

If Coastiders were to vote on the programming that MCTV now offers, I believe that they would vote it down by a wide margin. As it is, the channel is something of a joke.  Some may think that it is “just” t.v., but I think that it could be a great forum for our community. As it is, we must appear quite backwards to anyone outside of our area who might tune in.

Rich Gordon says he told MCTV he did not want them to change from a member-owned organization to a self-appointed board. The supervisors have no direct authority over MCTV, but they can determine who gets to operate Channel 6, which is not owned by MCTV.

MCTV is a private organization with its own board of directors. It’s organized as a 501c3 nonprofit. A self-appointing board is not necessarily a bad thing, and most Coastside non-profits are organized that way.

MCTV’s governance wouldn’t be an issue if it were doing its job. But the station gets its basic funding, video equipment, cablecasting setup, offices in El Granada, and use of Channel 6 on Comcast to serve a public purpose which it is not fulfilling.

It would be different if MCTV were inspiring, producing and distributing the kind of lively, intelligent, and original content this community is capable of producing. Or if it were producing genuine public affairs programming. Or if it were open to members of the community who wanted to “put on a show”.  Or if they’d even pick up the phone during the day.

Virtually the only original programming that the station carries these days is public meetings, which are highly profitable for the station because they are funded by public agencies at prices that far exceed their cost of production. MCTV has monopolized this highly profitable business by refusing the carry scheduled meetings videos produced by anyone other than themselves.

MCTV closed its board and kicked its members to the curb because it doesn’t want to change the way it does business.

I don’t understand the issue is with MCTV.

In terms of service to the community, MCTV is not doing a very good job. Further, their main medium for distribution, Comcast provides poor service with declining numbers of customers. It’s somewhat disturbing County revenue is being used to provide ineffective public access.  But, there are many examples of County waste.  MCTV seems more concerned with keeping the same people employed doing what was needed forty years ago, when big corporations dominated the media and distribution.  Forty years ago, the FCC and other Government entities felt themselves in the awkward position of granting public monopolies to big media and corporations, while there was a gold rush stampede to connect all TV customers to cable TV.  MCTV is a relic of that era. 

Today, with competing distribution media, cheap electronics and authoring tools and the internet, why fight MCTV, why not just go around MCTV?

Is the issue that some piddly amount of County revenue is being squandered on someones meal ticket or that the existence of Comcast monopoly and MCTV is preventing competing Coastside programming/content from getting to an audience or just a vague wish that MCT would be less self absorbed and more responsive to the Coastside community?

I’m not asking a rhetorical question, here.  I’d like to hear an answer from the pioneers of the new media like Barry and Darin, that made the effort to go around.

Thanks.

Hey Vince,

One problem with the “go around” strategy is that MCTV has a monopoly on Channel 6 and refuses to air programming if they are in conflict with its business goals.

For example, when I compete with MCTV on shooting government meetings they say to the agency “If you go with us you get the web and channel 6. If you go with Darin we will refuse to put his work on Channel 6.”

Thus they extend their monopoly from Channel 6 into the web.

Why do we need government meetings? You know the public service need, which MCTV is not fulfilling. But from a “go around” strategy point-of-view that market is one of the few that pays for videos—the money can be used to pay for all the other free stuff that needs to be done.

A viable solution to MCTV requires a revenue source.

So, it matters.

—Darin

Vince, I agree that PEG TV is an eighties medium and at some point it won’t matter. However, I there are several reason why this matters for the next five years at least:

* Channel 6 reaches about half the homes on the Coastside in a way that is more accessible and more direct than any other medium. People see Channel 6 on the program guide and when they are channel surfing.

* Channel 6 is still a vital information service in the event of an emergency.

* MCTV prevented the use of newsworthy clips from public meetings by asserting their claimed copyright. It was only after we ran for the MCTV board, that they relented on this policy which directly contradicted their charter.

* Because MCTV records public meetings, it could be a much more vital public information source on Web (and other media), but with the current board and management, they are incapable of fulfilling this promise. Their current website, which was built by a member of their board of directors, is an embarrassment.

* I agree that MCTV’s misuse of public funds is pretty penny-ante, but it has now been identified by an independent county investigative body and the remedy is obvious, cheap, and easy to execute.

Darin,

Thanks.  I see your points and agree.

I remember hearing in one of the Fire Board meetings Ms. Malach say that MCTV management had to assert editorial control over channel 6 to assure her produced content had a competitive advantage over other content in order to preserve the cost structure of MCTV.  I suspect this is illegal censorship under 47USC 531 Section 611e.  My armature reading of the law is that the only condition the Operator(Comcast) or PEG Access Manager (MCTV) a designee of the Cable Franchise Authority(San Mateo County) can deny a broadcast slot is obscenity.  see:  Coplin v. Fairfield Public Access Television Committee 111 F3d 1395 (8th Cir. 1997 and McClellan v. Cablevision Of Connecticut, Inc., 149 F.3d 161 (2d Cir. 1998).

The justification given by Ms. Malach about sustaining her gravy train operation hardly rises to the level of a First Amendment obscenity issue. Someone should bring the matter up with SMC Legal Council or one of the Supervisors.  This might be as simple as handing Ms. Malach a tape of a meeting and when she refuses to show it at a scheduled time, run the issue up through the County.  They are just as liable for breaking the law as their deginee, MCTV is.

Barry,

Thanks.  A couple of clarifications;

Comcast may reach something like half the homes but, how many watch MCTV with it’s poor production and unpredictable schedule.

I don’t buy the emergency communications at all.  Our telecom infrastructure is built to five nines level of reliability. Emergency have radios and satellite to back that up.  Comcast goes off the air for days with a five minute power glitch according to reports.  Where’s Ms. Malach or any of her staff, when there is an emergency?  They can’t even be bothered to answer the phone during business hours.

Vince, my point is that if MCTV were responsive to the community, more people would watch it.

On emergency systems, my point is the same. If MCTV were properly managed, it would be a significant communication asset in an emergency.

But I agree that MCTV as currently constituted is not up to either drawing an audience or serving the community when it really matters.