Monday, March 02, 2009
Zane Blaney and the Death of Access SF
Last Monday, February 23rd, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Rules Committee was the site of a hearing looking into the proposed drastic funding cuts to Channels 29 and 76, the public acess television stations on Comcast cable TV. Their proposed annual grant is being reduced from $800,000 to $120,000 in June of this year.
New California legislation had been written in 2006 that was heavily influenced by both AT&T and Comcast which included language that absolved it from funding any of the costs of labor or rent at the public access, educational, or government television stations that are carried through the cable channel.
Interestingly, this year's $929,626 Access SF budget includes $200,000 for rent at their studio on Market and Valencia Streets and over $550,000 in employee salaries including benefits (click here for the full budget). This is because after being something of an anarchic, volunteer-run collective from the 1970s to the end of the twentieth century, the operation was taken over by a nonprofit called the San Francisco Community Television Corporation.
This organization was headed by Zane Blaney (above) who was in cahoots with somebody at the Department of Telecommunications and Information Services (DITS) at City Hall. Mr. Blaney then proceeded to install himself and a half dozen, mostly gay aides to be in charge of the station, and they have proven to be a lethal combo of inept and dictatorial, driving out many of the volunteer producers who actually created content for the station. Some of the front-line "facilitators" have tried their best to be helpful, but they have a hard road navigating between the abusiveness of management and the lunacy of some of the producers.
In 2003-04, I created a 52-episode show called "FotoTales" which ran over the course of two years. When I first walked into the station, it felt like a civil war was raging between the new regime and the old producers. I didn't have a stake in either camp, but after witnessing management's ugly harassment of their most gifted employees, it became clear there was something very rotten going on. (Click here for a good account by Michael Faklis.) Before writing this post, I called a few longtime producers who still had shows and asked whether things were still the same at the station. "If anything, it's just gotten worse" seemed to be the consensus.
The previous incarnation of public access at the 15th and Folsom studios had a surprisingly large black contingent of producers, and the many "suspensions" and disciplinary actions taken by Blaney and Aaron Vinck, the "assistant CEO," were directed disproportionately towards its black population. (Click here for an SF Weekly story with an example.) As a white gay dude, I found myself embarrassed by many of their actions, especially towards people I adored such as Idell (above).
The hearing was being spearheaded by Supervisor Mirkarimi but it was essentially symbolic, asking the state and the feds to change the law, or as my friend h. brown put it, "closing the barn door after the horse has already gotten out." There will be a full Board vote on the resolution urging the fed and the states to Do Something on Tuesday the 4th.
There should be another large turnout of public commenters who have confused the survival of public access with the survival of Zane Blaney and his nonprofit. A few of them, such as Idell, have no such confusion, and used their commenting time to ask for a change in management at the station. The supervisors, however, insisted that was a completely separate issue, "and we don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater."
Throwing the baby out with the bathwater may be the only way to dislodge Mr. Blaney and his aides from their nonprofit jobs for life. A major disaster is arriving with the global financial meltdown this year and one of the few compensations is that change often happens after old structures are destroyed. The only way the "San Francisco Chronicle" is ever going to get any better, for instance, is after it dies, which will allow a different group of people to start something new. The same is probably true for public media access in San Francisco.