On January 15, 2017, the Daily Hampshire Gazette published an article penned by staff writer Scott Merzbach regarding Amherst Media current status of providing services to the town of Amherst without a contract.
AMHERST — Raising concerns that an adjustment to how Amherst Media gets its funding could diminish public access to the community, officials with the nonprofit are pressing for a new contract immediately.
Demetria Shabazz, an Amherst Media board member, told the Select Board last week that similar nonprofit entities have been lost in other parts of the country when funding mechanisms change.
“It’s during a time in which so much is riding on the role of independent media to bring us fair and balanced reporting, the extinction of access media stations is a frightening prospect,” Shabazz said.
Shabazz said it is distressing that a new contract is not yet in place, after she served on the Cable Advisory Committee that negotiated a deal in which Comcast agreed to collect around $300,000 a year in gross annual revenues to support the PEG channels — the public, educational and governmental channels people associate with traditional cable access.
“This is something that is a disservice to our longtime partner, Amherst Media,” Shabazz said.
The delay is caused, in part, by new guidelines from the state revenue department’s local services division, which no longer allows the pass-through of these revenues. Instead, the town has to include these revenues in its budget, and then will have to either create an enterprise fund or a special revenue fund to pay Amherst Media.
Town Manager Paul Bockelman said Friday 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.
Bockelman said he is collecting samples from other communities before issuing a request for proposals.
Amherst Media Executive Director Jim Lescault said Friday that Amherst Media is asking the Select Board for the opportunity to discuss and come to a contractual agreement that will be mutually beneficial to both parties. He hopes this can be at the board’s Jan. 23 meeting.
Select Board member Andrew Steinberg said he and other board members are still trying to understand how to proceed with getting to a new contract.
As Amherst Media continues to broadcast even without a contract, Lescault wrote a letter to the board stating that a public bid for services is not necessary, and that Comcast could make quarterly payments directly to Amherst Media.
“Part of that discussion is looking at it as a serious way to move forward here, and hopefully we have that discussion in the near future,” Lescault said.
According to its annual report, Amherst Media has increased its coverage of town government and the services it provides by 60 percent, producing 356 programs, or 1.4 shows per work day. Nearly 30 percent of all meetings recorded were not contractually obligated by Amherst Media.
Scott Merzbach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.