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{ENTRY NOTE: This is the full version of the speech presented during the conference, which was titled "Children in Conflict Zones: The Negative Impact of Conflict on the Education, Health, and Psychological Well-Being of Children in Zones of Conflict" at the Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the United Nations in New York City on Monday, June 13, 2011. The conference was organized by Eng Aja Eze Foundation.]

On Public Access TV - Public Benefit Media: Freedom of Expression

Compiled-written and presented by:

Bircan ÜNVER
Founding President of The Light Millennium & Permanent Rep. to the UN-DPI/NGO



NGO Colleagues,

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honor and privilege to be part of this diverse and unique panel. Firstly, I would like to thank my NGO colleague Ugoji Eze for inviting me to speak with you at this panel. I would also like to thank to Dr. Surendra Kauchik for co-hosting this program.

In this presentation, I would like to bring the question, “What is public access television in the U.S?” under the spotlight. How it was started? Who sponsors or funds it? Who is eligible to benefit from it? How do Public Access TVs and Public Benefit Media serve the purpose of "freedom of expression"? How can it be expanded world wide so that it can be a channel, a tool, and a "solution" for the problem of "children in conflict zones"? And, how can it be a channel for reducing the negative effects and traumas of conflicts in various forms and platforms, such as by "free expression?"

This presentation will not be responding to all these questions but will aim to draw your attention to the potentials, practices and implications of Public Access TVs in the US. Thus, as first, I would like to start with the history of Public Access TVs in the US; that will be followed by my own experience through Queens Public TV, and lastly, I will seek an answer to the question, “how can Public Access TVs and Public Benefit Media serve to resolve conflicts, particularly for the children and youth in the conflict zones?”

BACKGROUND - History of the Public Access TV in the US*:

In the United States, Public-access television is an alternative system of television that originated as a response to dissatisfaction with the commercial broadcasting system, and in order to fulfill some of the social potentials of cable television.

Mainly, Cable Access TV is a form of mass media where ordinary people can create content that is broadcasted or cable casted through cable TV systems.

Public-Access Television is often grouped with Public, educational, and government access television channels, by the acronym PEG. PEG Channels are typically only available on cable television systems. PEG TV was created in the United States between 1969 and 1971 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and has since been mandated under the Cable Communications Act of 1984. In this presentation, I will only focus on the Public Access TVs, which is defined as follow:

"Public-access television is generally quite free of editorial control, a form of mass media where ordinary people can create content, which is cablecast through a cable TV systems. The channels are reserved for free or at a minimal cost. The non-commercial Local origination television content revolves primarily around community interest, developed by individuals and nonprofit organizations."

Public Access Distinction from the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)**:

The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is an Educational television broadcasting service of professionally produced, highly curated content. It is not Public-access television, and has no connection with cable-only PEG television channels. Although Public Broadcasting bears some resemblance to the Educational aspect of PEG, PBS bears little resemblance to Public-access television.

Difference: The PBS service is mostly not locally produced content. Instead, it consists of content produced for a national audience distributed via satellites. There is no generally accepted right of access for citizens to use the broadcast studio facilities of PBS member stations, nor right of access by community content producers to the airwaves stewarded by these stations. These qualities are in stark contrast to PEG channel content, which is mostly locally produced, especially in conjunction with Local origination studio facilities. Furthermore, in the case of the Public-access television, the facilities and Channel capacities are uncurated “free-speech zones” available to anyone for free or little cost.

PBS is funded by the Federal government of the United States, by private grants and contributions. PEG channels are generally funded by cable television companies through revenues derived from Cable television franchise fees, member fees, grants and contributions.

Public grassroots groups, individuals, private non-profits, or government organizations may run Public Access channels. Policies and regulations are subject to their own ordinances and community standards.

Services available at Public-access television organizations are often low cost or free of charge, with an inclusive, neutral-content “first-come, first-serve” and free speech ideology. Funding from Cable television franchise fees are paid to the government for right-of-way use of Public property, hopefully allowing other general monetary fund to be used to operate the facilities, employ staff, develop a curriculum, operate training workshops, schedule, maintain equipment, manage the cable-casting of shows, and publish promotion materials to build station viewership. Funding and operating budgets vary significantly with the municipality's finances. Frequently it is left to the cable franchise to determine how they operate Public-access television. The FCC does not mandate a cable franchise to provide any of the above services mentioned.

Users of Public-access television stations may participate at most levels of this structure to make content of their choosing. Generally, anyone may have their programming aired on a Public-access television channel. Users are not restricted to cable subscribers, though residency requirements may apply depending on local franchise agreements or facility policies. Many Public access television channels try to favor locally produced programs while others also carry regionally or nationally distributed programming. Such programming—regional, national or even international—is usually aired on a channel curated by the PEG operator, which also carries programs produced by professional producers. A show that originates outside the municipality is often referred to as "bicycled", "dub and submit", or "satellite" programming.

In the event that a Public-access television channel becomes filled with programming, a franchise may state that more television channels may be added to satisfy the demand. [*, **: Above two section are compiled from the given resources underneath of this page.]

* * * * *

DEFINITION OF THE PUBLIC BENEFIT MEDIA: What are the similarities and differences between Public Benefit Media and Alternative Media?

There are close to 3000 Public Access channels in the United States, and they serve both the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution and Article 19th of the UN's Declaration of Human Rights. Therefore, Public Access channels and programs stand directly for "public benefit media." Other than this, any form of media (whether it be in electronic, on-line or print form,)which does not operate for the purpose of profit but for public interest with a charitable 501c3 organization, is within the status and definition of “Public Benefit Media.

In reference to the Alternative Media, it may or may not be like public benefit media. This is because it doesn't mean every “alternative media” also operates commercial free and as non-profit, and also accessible by all in that particular community for free in terms of benefiting from the facilities, reaching out communities, by free distribution, or with a minimal fee, etc.


My Queens Public Television experiences have given me great opportunity to utilize my right of freedom of expression voicing my ideas through television programs at QPTV's four channels since 1992.

Initially, I felt that this path would help me reach a mainstream media platform or that at least these two roads would merge at one point. Although this did not happen, I have gained much more than I had hoped for.

Furthermore, I do not need to merge my experiences with mainstream media for living purposes, because something has become much more essential in my life: producing more programs freely and being myself rather than conforming to someone else’s ideas and ideals.

Now that I have experienced self-satisfaction, know what I'd like to do, and what I can do despite very limited technical and financial resources, why not take my work one step further and not only have it be an alternative approach to mainstream media, but also take it on as a public benefit media? Afterall, mainstream media only stresses profit and the direct interlocking with commercials and politics rather than showing altruism for public interests or using a humanitarian approach.

After several years of acclimatize to computers and web designing, I realized that the essences of Public Access Television and the Internet are identical (despite the fact that today, of course the internet functions a global connection while public television is mostly local!)

At the same time, it has nation-wide and global outreach potential, (such as through the Internet.) Moreover, it serves as one of the most direct outreach techniques to local cable channels that are part of the basic cable package and commercial free among major networks and premium channels.

I learned and gained so much from my own Queens Public Access Television experiences. I consider that many are not aware about its very essential potential and role in the U.S. on a local and nation-wide level. Among English language channels, there is also a dedicated channel to other languages that also empower greatly to immigrant communities for presenting their culture-tradition-religion and issues that anyone can produce in any language in order to reach his or her own community through their mother tongue. For example: QPTV has dedicated one of its four channels to "ethnic programs" that is other than English.

* * * * *

Since I started in 1992, the essence of public access television and the medium itself has rapidly merged with the Internet, and also, some producers are cast their programs over satellites. That locally-defined media, and encouraged Public Access TVs to also reach out nation-wide and internationally.

When I came to the US for the first time in 1989, Turkey had only 2 state TV channels. Starting 1990s, that advanced and expanded. Through satellites and paid TV channels among state, private and local channels, currently the number of available TV channels are from thirty to over two-hundred.

However, neither Turkey, nor Asia, nor Africa, nor Latin America yet have public access TV.

Mainly, among the U.S., Canada, England, indeed, Public Access TVs are not available globally, and therefore "freedom of expression" is not either.

Although with the recent developments in technology, (flip cameras, iPhones etc.,) nothing has the potential to replace Public Access TV.

Therefore, it also provides a base to take on those produced programs to other platforms such as special screenings, on the Web, to other local public access TVs, etc.

My experience with Public Access TV, producing programs at Queens Public TV since 1992, my masters degree on Media from the New School, and my thesis documentary "ALL IDEAS: Freedom of Expression in Turkey" (1999) with the inspiration of the 1st Amendment and the Article#19 of the UN, let me to form The Light Millennium organization to promote this concept and practices globally since it’s inception in 1999. As a volunteer base, the organization has seeded globally both as a Public Benefit Media and a Culture organization with its core concept of globally promoting "freedom of expression" and presenting ideas from all walks of life as one of the ways of solving conflicts and struggles.

* * * * *

How can Public Access TVs and the expansion of public benefit media reduce tensions in the conflict zones?
And in particular, between the various opponent communities in the conflict zones? Or how can Public Access TVs, radios, public benefit media, and online video streaming capacities, empower people in the conflict zones that also could be a channel for combating conflicts and removing tensions? Or how can cameras and other forms of freedom of expression tools such as photography, short videos, blogs, writings, journalism, performing arts etc. replace weapons and guns?

These are a few key questions to be answered. Firstly, in every country, (particularly in the conflict zones,) "public access television" regulations must be passed and they must be a part of each country's Communication Act and practices.

Secondly, foreign aids and investments must aim to empower youth and people in the conflict zones instead of providing weapons & deepening ongoing conflicts between youth groups and people from different religions and ethnic backgrounds. And, as opposed to having weapon, training camps for child soldiers, those resources should be replaced with providing them access for free expression and enabling them to hear one another on an equal degree. When this is put into practice, accordingly, Public Access TVs locally and regionally have the potential to release tension and help various communities who are in conflict, to understand one another. Based on that capacity and empowerment, they will also be able to be heard beyond their zones and communities and will be connected globally.

In conclusion: The US offers this unique opportunity, which is in line with the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment as well as with the Article 19 of the UN. Yet, the US does not include and promote it as part of its world-wide Foreign Policy, in particular, in the conflict zones, and in the least developing and the developing countries. Further and more importantly, the UN General Assembly has not included "freedom of expression" as part of the Declaration of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000. With that said, I strongly think that when the UN includes Article 19th as the 9th of the Millennium Development Goals and when the US undertakes to globally promote "freedom of expression", a combination of this will have a great impact toward change, positivism, and serve as a global solution for "Children in Conflict Zones”.

Thank you very much.

1) Federal Communications Commission -
2) Wikipedia Public Access distinction from the Public Access TV:
3) A Symbol of Democracy in the US: QPTV or PUBLIC ACCESS TV - An interview with Clifford JACOBS (2001)
4) United Nations
5) UN Millennium Development Goals

Special Thanks to: Idil Baysal, Intern, for her contribution to this presentation.

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