Pembroke’s decision this spring to have a regional organization take over the town’s cable access station is a subject of renewed debate after a group of residents opposed to the move successfully petitioned for a Town Meeting vote on the issue.
The group’s article calls for the town to cancel its contract with Plymouth Area Community Television. It also asks that the town reclaim ownership of the equipment and other assets that PACTV acquired when it assumed operation of the station in June, and calls for the restoration of a cable station within Pembroke.
The petitioners filed 139 certified signatures, more than the 100 needed to place the article on the Nov. 13 Special Town Meeting, according to town officials.
“We wanted the article on the warrant so that we, the people of Pembroke, can make the decision on what happens to our public access television, instead of the selectmen,” said Cathie Briggette, who with Dr. Margaret Jones organized the petition drive.
Town Administrator Edwin Thorne said he was awaiting an opinion from town counsel on whether the article was legally binding. But regardless of that opinion, he said he expects the proposal to be heard and debated at Town Meeting. Selectmen are scheduled to discuss the article at their meeting on Monday.
The contract selectmen signed with PACTV in June provided for the organization to acquire Pembroke Media Broadcast, the nonprofit then operating the station. The move implemented a previous vote by PMB to merge with PACTV, which also operates cable access channels in Duxbury, Kingston, and Plymouth.
Town officials say the change to PACTV will make the town’s cable access service more efficient and provide Pembroke with access to the equipment and programming that PACTV offers.
But some in town have decried the loss of a Pembroke-based station, saying it severely hinders the ability of residents to produce local programming.
“We had a great studio here,” said Briggette, referring to the studio in the Pembroke Community Center that was used by Pembroke Media Broadcast. “We had over 75 volunteers. . . . Now they’ve completely emptied the studio and there is nothing we can use.”
Jones, a local dentist who volunteered at PMB, said there has been a “100 percent reduction” in Pembroke programming since PACTV took over, attributing that to the loss of station volunteers.
“Stations are run by volunteers, and if you don’t have a studio in town . . . they are not going to be volunteers anymore,” she said.
Jones said residents who had volunteered for Pembroke Media Broadcast are now volunteering for Pembroke Community Media Center, a newly launched website that features many of the programs formerly aired on PMB.
But Greg Hanley, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said the switch to PACTV was a good move for the town.
“There are so many positives here,” Hanley said, pointing for example to a new studio that PACTV is building at the high school for use by the school community, and the state-of-the-art equipment to which Pembroke volunteers now have access.
“There is plenty of local programming,” he said.
Nancy Richard, executive director of PACTV, said her organization made clear when it agreed to operate Pembroke’s cable access channel that it would not be able to maintain the community center studio due in part to the cost involved.
But she said the field equipment from the old studio is now housed at the public library and that anyone who was previously trained to use it is welcome to borrow the equipment to videotape shows for PACTV’s four-town public access channel.
Videotapes can be deposited in a PACTV dropoff box at the library or uploaded electronically, Richard said. Residents who receive training are also welcome to use the equipment in PACTV’s studios in Plymouth. PACTV has waived its normal membership and class fees for Pembroke residents until next July.
“We’ve trained a number of Pembroke residents to use our studio and our equipment, and in a very short period of time you will see more Pembroke programs,” Richard said. “But there’s a limit of how much we can do in three months, when a number of producers have chosen not to put their programs on PACTV. We welcome them to do so.”
Richard said the studio equipment that had been at the community center will be used in the high school studio. PACTV has hired a part-time employee to teach students how to use the video equipment and to help teachers integrate it in their curriculums.
Biggette and Jones said that many residents are also unhappy that Pembroke Media Broadcast failed to seek public input when it decided on a merger and that selectmen signed the contract after having advised residents they had no say in the matter.
Thorne said town officials initially thought PMB’s board could act on its own. He said it was only later that town counsel determined selectmen would have to sign the contract since they had never authorized the PMB board to serve as their agent in negotiating such an agreement.
Meanwhile, Richard in a statement said that at the time it acquired PMB, PACTV discovered that the Internal Revenue Service had “levied a $7,449.15 fine because PMB had not filed its 2009 tax forms.” She said PACTV filed the necessary forms and last week received notice that the fine had been waived.