Statement at public comment to the Amherst Board of Selectmen by Amherst Media Executive Direct Jim Lescault on January 23, 2017.
Full text as follows:
Last week during public comment I distributed to you Amherst Media’s Annual Report 2016. While I spoke about the excessive increase in the number of Government Meetings recorded by Amherst Media, 70 more than the previous year.
I did not have the time to direct your attention to the 21 attached letters.
These letters are from organizations and individuals who wrote in support of Amherst Media during the Cable Renewal Ascertainment Period. Each letter describes in detail in what manner Amherst Media works in conjunction with them.
Included in that list are:
- Scott Livingstone, Amherst Chief of Police
- League of Women Voters of Amherst
- Sharon A. Sharry, Library Director, Jones Library
- Don Courtemanche, Executive Director, Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce
- Mindy Domb, Executive Director, Amherst Survival Center
- Anna Holhut, President, Rotary Club of Amherst
- Tony Maroulis, Director of Community Relations, UMass Amherst
- Erica Scharrer, Professor and Chair, Department of Communication, UMass Amherst
- Martha Fuentes-Bautista, Professor, Department of Communication & Center for Public Policy and Administration, UMass Amherst
- Mari Castañeda, Professor, Department of Communication, UMass
- Janice Hanson, Professor, Department of Communication, UMass Amherst
- Sheila Klem, President, Five College Learning in Retirement
- Amilcar Shabazz, Professor W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies, UMass Amherst & Faculty Advisor to the Chancellor for Diversity and Excellence
- Lisa Fontes, Senior Lecturer, University Without Walls, UMass Amherst
- Magdalena Gomez, Teatro V!da
- Sonji Anderson, Director, Youth Action Coalition & Vira Douangmany Cage, YAC Board of Directors Chair
- Jonathan Kane, President, Amherst Baseball, Inc.
- Sarah McKee
- Dorothy Cresswell
- Josh Wolfsun
- Charlie Schweik
Additionally, I would like to refer to comments recently made in an Amherst Bulletin article attributed to Town Manager Paul Bockelman that even with this new process that will play out, and no contract yet signed, Amherst Media is still being paid. The arrangement, he added, isn’t much different than a decade ago, when what was then Amherst Community Television operated without a contract from October 2006 to February 2007.
I want to be on record saying there is a very real difference between the period of Oct. 2006 til Feb. 2007 and the period we find ourselves in today. Back then ACTV was in negotiations with the Town for a renewed contract. Lawyer Bill August of August & Epstein represented ACTV using the time to dramatically expand and modernize the language from the contract issued in 1996. Throughout that period, ACTV knew it was in negotiations, had legal representation and was actively engaged in the dialogue.
Whereas during this period of over 90 days, Amherst Media has been without a contract and we are not in negotiations or even discussion with the Town.
We have offered examples of how 17 Western Mass Towns and Cities have found a satisfactory method in which to keep the PEG providers Independent and funded. To date this option has not been pursued with us.
We advised the Town Manager that state-wide efforts were underway to place the needed 30B exemption for non-profit providers of PEG service into state legislation. Again, resulting in no local conversation.
Legislation has already been introduced at the State House to mandate the provision of High Definition and Electronic Programming Guide for all PEG channels. While these were issues identified by our Amherst subscribers, the Town like so many other locales was unable to obtain them during cable renewal negotiations.
Why does the Town feel it is normal to treat an organization that has collaborated with it for the past 41 years in such a disrespectful and dismissive manner?
While throughout these three months, the Town’s expectation is that Amherst Media continues coverage of all Select Board meetings, like tonight, and tomorrow School Committee and Wed. planning and Thursday Finance Committee and next Monday the Special Town Meeting, as if we still had a contract.
We have continued to make the overtures to the Town for dialogue and continued to perform our duties as defined within our lapsed contract in good faith, that we will be paid for our services when Comcast‘s February quarterly payment comes to the Town.
Given the uncertainties of what the Town will decide to do, Amherst Media is requesting a written commitment from the Town to pay for services rendered. This is just good business sense supported by common sense.
Amherst Media, the oldest non-profit media access center in the country, is facing the potential loss of its independence by the Town of Amherst. After 41 years of service and collaboration between the organization and the Town, the Town is determined to change the longstanding relationship.
Amherst Media has been without a contract since October of 2016, when the Town signed a new 10 year contract renewal with cable giant Comcast. Throughout this nearly four-month period, Amherst Media has continued to cover all of their obligated recordings as outlined in their lapsed contract. The organization continued to request an opportunity to speak before the Select Board, only to be denied. They resorted to using the public comment portion of the Select Board meeting to speak to the Town officials and the public at large.
Jim Lescault, Executive Director, Amherst Media