San Luis Obispo City Council members voted 5-0 on July 3 to cut the amount of money requested for broadcasting equipment by the SLOCOPA public-access television station to $4,000. The station had asked for $15,918.
The council members also requested that the Channel 2 public access board members attend mediation with minority producers to rewrite bylaws to guarantee more public access.
The issue came to a head when minority producers, in conjunction with the Bearce family, Ron and Leslie, 52, and Christina, 20, explained to the council that diversity shows became harder to air because priority spots, designed to promote diversity and culture for viewers, were being filled with lower priority religious programs.
“They’ve been saying on these shows that everybody but them follows Satan if people do not follow their religious beliefs,” Ron Bearce said. “We don’t object to them saying this, but they say it for themselves – it’s not diversified. And they think banning minorities on public access will solve the minority problem.”
The board members are calling these minority producers “ghost producers.” The Bearce family has put nearly 1,000 people on local television, many of these shows created by minority producers, so by using the “ghost producer” label, the SLOCOPA board members can now pull minority programs by claiming these shows were created by the Bearce family, and not by minority producers.
“What everyone is caught up in now is false accusations that minority shows are what they call ‘ghost producers,’ fake people who my family was somehow using for our own television time,” Ron Bearce said. “We have hours of tapes to prove that false, as well as all those named ‘ghost producers’ wanting to clear my family’s good name and expose what has happened.”
The board has implemented some new policies and procedures and are enforcing them, said newly elected SLOCOPA board member Monique Matta. The board passed a new rule limiting an organization, which includes a family, to only two shows; whereas the old rule said each individual is allowed two shows.
According to Matta, the Bearce family had seven shows so “they were obviously affected and upset by the rules.”
In a July 25 New Times opinion piece, Matta explained that “over the past year, a series of new shows began to appear on Channel 2, many of which were either hosted or co-hosted by longtime producers Ron and Leslie Bearce, and filmed or edited by their children. Neither Ron nor Leslie were listed as the producer on the paperwork, but it was clearly their footage. Technically, the Bearce family had seven shows between them, but at one time, they were estimated as appearing in over 20 programs.”
Black television producer Patrick Germany has used the public access channel for years. He has invited and aired many minority Cuesta College and Cal Poly students and wants this channel to remain true to its original bylaws that hold these minority-type shows as a priority.
“I brought student mover and shakers on to the channel,” Germany said. “These guys now are just trying to make a quick buck with all their religious and advertising shows. I can understand that, but it’s not right. Public access was supposed to be a means to get the public word out.”
Matta responded to Germany’s accusations in her New Times opinion piece by explaining that “the most outrageous charge against SLOCOPA is racism. This claim is a complete fabrication. For example: Patrick Germany, recent board candidate and Bearce supporter, alleges that he was the victim of a conspiracy to remove minority producers from the channel. Germany has two shows currently airing on Channel 2, so he benefits from an organization that he routinely attacks.”
A suggested remedy here is the 10-year contract public access has with Charter Communication. In the contract, Charter is bound to provide five public access channels, when there is now only one – channel two, Ron Bearce said.
The first City Council-appointed mediation meeting between SLOCOPA board members and the Bearces took place July 30. Though what went on during the two-and-a-half-hour meeting is deemed confidential, Ron Bearce said in a July 31 New Times article: “It was exhausting but worthwhile. It was the first time producers and I were able to sit down with these board members without being interrupted.”
“Public access should be about diversity and it seems they should be encouraging diversity,” City Council member Paul Brown said. “But it seems like (the new SLOCOPA board) limits their agenda and they personally want to promote their views.”