Open letter: Common-sense reforms for MCTV


Posted by on Sat, June 19, 2010

Public access TV is always going to be slapdash and rinky-dink. But it ought to be public.

To: Ann Stillman, County of San Mateo, [email protected]

From: Barry Parr

Subj: Making MCTV work for the public

Ms. Stillman:

Thank you for holding a public meeting on the future of the Coastside’s Public, Educational, and Governmental television station, which is currently operated by MCTV. I wanted to share my thoughts with you in advance of the meeting.

I agree with the Civil Grand Jury that MCTV’s programming does not meet the needs of the community. However, I’m confident that if MCTV were more open it would do a far better job of serving the community.

I’m going to lay out the problems that have created the current programming crisis on MCTV, and offer a set of reasonable reforms that will improve the quality of MCTV’s service to the Coastsiders who are paying its bills.

The Problems


  • Operates as a private corporation, despite the fact that 100% of its funding comes from public agencies through fees and taxes assessed on the Coastside community.
  • Is managed by the members of a single family and overseen by a their hand-picked board.
  • Is closed to public participation in its governance, holds its meetings unannounced and in private, and does not publish its minutes.
  • Claims copyright to publicly-financed recordings of public meetings. MCTV reserves the right to deny re-use of these recordings and does not permit public agencies to make copies of DVD’s of its meetings for the public.  This allows public agencies to skirt public records laws.
  • Claims copyright to all videos produced with its (publicly-financed) equipment by independent producers from the community. This benefits station management to the detriment of the public which paid for the equipment.
  • Claims the right to cablecast and distribute to other stations without limitation for twenty years for all video not produced with its equipment that it shows on Channel 6. Again, this benefits station management to the detriment of the public on whose behalf they are licensed to operate the station.
  • Requires that all submitted videos be reviewed by station management to assure that they do not express a point of view. This cuts at the very heart of the intent of setting aside a cable channel for free speech.
  • Cannot be reached by telephone or in person during business hours.  MCTV is unreliable about returning messages left on its voice mail or emails sent. This discourages the public from having a conversation with the station that is licensed to operate a public channel on its behalf.


The licensing authorities (San Mateo County and the city of Half Moon Bay) should require the Coastside PEG station licensee to:

  • Permanently license videos created at public expense for reuse and editing by the public.
  • Hold its meetings in public and with proper notice.
  • Treat its records as public records and honor public requests for information and documents within reasonable times and at a reasonable cost.
  • Keep regular posted business hours when the station manager can be reached directly, both in person and by phone, by all members of the community.
  • Publish a plan for public outreach with concrete goals and a set timetable.
  • Allow individual producers to retain copyright to noncommercial recordings they produce using station equipment.
  • Accept all videos created by residents of the Coastside which copyright-cleared and are not libelous or obscene, provide adequate promotion, and cablecast programming from the public when the public is likely to see them.
  • Acquire a set percentage of its revenue from the community—through sponsorships, memberships, or fundraising—and to increase that percentage by a set amount per year.

Finally, the licensing authorities should appoint an ombudsperson to handle requests, complaints, and suggestions from the community and participate in future requests for proposals as a community representative. This would avoid the problem of the station’s unresponsiveness, while relieving city and county authorities of fielding complaints from the public.

As I said, these are reasonable, common-sense reforms which will greatly enhance the public’s use of its public access channel while not unduly inconveniencing the licensee. Thank you for your attention.


Barry Parr

Solid points… but I’d like to amend your Open Letter, as I believe it’s missing the one kuhunaginormousitcallyfragilistic one….


MCTV says “MCTV can be seen on the cable system”.

The cable system? Really? Genericsm in it’s finest moment.

The non-prescriptiveness is paramount to the fact that most of us don’t even get MCTV…

Unless, there’s a way to get it on DirecTV, Dish, AT&T, Comcast, local airwaves, or the option of two soup cans and some twine from a treehouse it is NOT serving the entire community nor close to it, and we can’t/won’t/shouldn’t afford the lack of scale in audience that it currently serves. A public library is grossly under-utilized but is still available to all, and financed by all. MCTV on the other hand has the ‘reach’ of a Tyrannosaurus Rex competing in a raquetball tournament, and we are all paying it’s ill-fated entry fee.

Whether meetings are openly held, the management are being meanies, they aren’t really a 15-C-3X entity, they won’t return my calls, they won’t take Montara Fog’s clips in MPEG2 format on DVD-DL media, and the “family control” reads like a Mario Puzo epic… is pointless. It is rhetoric and debate on monies for those whom mostly do not get MCTV. Any/all fiscal wherewithall should give it the thumbs down altogether. Barry, not picking on your dissatisfaction w/ MCTV, but how is current operations a “crisis” when it only affects a minority of population, and there is no remediation of mass-impact in sight. If the bulk of us could actually view and judge MCTV ...maybe 90%+ of your points would carry some saliency w/ 75%+ of your readership.

Especially since 3/4 of the programming today is just stoic and drab ______ ______ _____ District/Council/Board members politely bickering and fobbling through Robert’s Rules and permit reviews. Frankly, it would be buried amongst the myriad of 700+ channels we receive of “pay-per-view movie X” slotted every 15 minutes, three versions of ESPN9 showing the College Lawn Dart Division 2A Championships. Should someday MCTV actually show up in the ‘Northern Hemisphere’ of what is the Visual Dewey Decimal System comprising my TV service menu, I’d have to be maticulously sure to not paginate over it… as I jet over the “video fly-over-country” that is Paid Programming and PPV ad naseum, weaving and bobbing from panhandlers and miscreants like a banker waltzing down Montgomery St. For what it’s worth, I usually keep 2 spare changes of batteries on the armrest in order to make the long journey from the major networks to the History Channel or National Geographic. Worse case, I go “Donner Party” and swipe the AAs from the kids video game remote. Every man, woman and child from themselves I suppose. Back on topic…

Local access community TV was a great part of Americana ...yeah, in the 80s. Gag me with a spoon. But like CB Radio, run any/all “programming” through the broader, cheaper, and more efficient medium to reach our community and communicate upon. Barry’s image of Wayne’s World exemplifies SNL mocking the medium 20 years ago to the date. That www thing is pretty neat. Imagine taking that ‘broadcast’ budget and apply it to an official public online medium. For one distribution increases threefold (guessing more Coastsiders get the “internet channel” vs MCTV, no?), whilst costs decrease threefold (SuperVHS, broadcast “rack”... really??!!!), throw in the ol’ watch it when you want to vs. pre-determined scheduled time, and viewership goes up…. eh, let’s say threefold again.

10-7 it altogether, good buddy. Oh my god, like totally.

This is a short-term prescription, designed to cover the next year, which is what the county and city are asking for.

I have another piece discussing the short to medium term futre, which clearly goes beyond cable.  I’m trying to stay focused, but I’ll post that in the near future.

However, we’re talking about $100,000 in taxpayer money that goes to MCTV every year.  It’s a not a great deal of money by government standards, but it’s being spent with little or no accountability.

Thank you for sharing your ideas!

Thanks for writing this letter.