District Refuses To Be Open About KCSM-TV Sale

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Originally published in the AFT Advocate – May 10 2013

Updating the San Mateo community on the sale of the non-commercial TV station KCSM-TV, which has been housed at the College of San Mateo since 1964, is no easy task.

For the second consecutive time, a public records request filed by Media Alliance (MA), this time accompanied by a request by the Palo Alto Daily Post newspaper, has been denied by the Board of Trustees. In 2012, the names of the bidders were not released until the District had already decided to reject all 6 bids. In 2013, the District confirms that negotiations are on-going with one “top bidder”, but refuses to divulge who that top bidder may be and what their plans are.

District staff member Jan Roecks responded that it was not in the District’s “interests” to release information regarding the status of the RFP and on-going negotiations and would not set a firm date when any information would be available. Media Alliance fears nothing will be forthcoming until the end of the process when bidders have already been turned away and the outcome is a “fait accompli.” Such non-transparency excludes the campus community, the station’s members and San Mateo residents, and is not appropriate for a public asset that serves 60 cable systems and half a million people in 10 different Bay Area counties.

The community college district didn’t pay a cent to acquire one of the largest public television stations in the state of California. Like all non-commercial broadcast licenses, KCSM-TV was gifted to serve the information and cultural needs of the surrounding community. Gifted for free. The only costs are operating costs and the District receives Corporation for Public Broadcasting grants and whatever underwriting income can be generated. The College of San Mateo once attracted students from all over the state who enrolled in the best broadcasting training offered by any 2-year college in California.

Recent statements that SMCCD wants to make a bunch of money by dissolving the station and selling to a for-profit wireless company, Locus Point Networks, rather than engaging in negotiations with other bidders, who include Free Speech TV co-founder John Schwartz and several other community groups, could be considered naked profiteering off public assets with little concern for the purpose of the license or the stakeholders in the community.

In an era of dramatic media consolidation and wholesale corporate control of commercial media, the few independent outlets left are valuable and should not be eradicated lightly. While the Internet provides many sources of news and information, lack of net neutrality, privacy issues and growing cybersurveillance demonstrate the Internet may not be a bastion of free speech indefinitely.

If the mission of the San Mateo Community College District is education, then the current seeming intent of the Trustees is an abandonment of mission in pursuit of a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The next Board of Trustees meeting is May 15th at 6:00 pm. Please come to say that if the District doesn’t want to operate a TV station anymore, then it should transfer the license to another nonprofit that will not auction KCSM off like a junked car for scrap metal.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant. MA believes the district is not being forthcoming about the current set of negotiations because this is not what students, faculty and San Mateo residents want. State Senator Leland Yee and Senator Anna Eshoo have already written to the Trustees saying that they want the license sold to a qualified nonprofit who will continue to operate a public TV station. If you want to say the same, write to trustees@smccd.edu or come to the Board meeting on May 15th at 6 pm.

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Tracy Rosenberg is the executive director at Media Alliance, an Oakland-based democratic communications advocate. They can be found on the web at www.media-alliance.org.

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