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Pleasantville Board Grills PCTV Over Footage of Capitol Riot, Posts During Budget Meeting

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Pleasantville PCTV
PCTV Station Manager Shane McGaffey was filming a documentary on people’s reflections on the American flag on Jan. 6 during the insurrection in Washington, which has caused a flap among some in Pleasantville.

A Jan. 6 trip by Pleasantville Community Television (PCTV) to Washington where the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol was filmed drew scrutiny last week from village officials as the community access station’s 2021-22 budget was discussed.

Shortly after the event, photos were posted of the Capitol of pre-riot crowds swelling with the captions “PCTV filming what’s really happening as congress gets ready to finalize Joe Biden’s win” and “Monumental Day in America and PCTV’s Shane McGaffey is in D.C. covering the event.”

McGaffey, PCTV’s station manager was the cameraman accompanying Pleasantville resident and producer Andrea Garbarini. Garbarini, who has produced multiple documentaries that have aired on PCTV, was working on a new film about people’s reflections on the American flag. Each paid their own expenses.

“We went to work on a piece about the American flag and what it means to people, not knowing what was going to happen,” explained McGaffey. “While down there we had planned to interview our (congressional) representative, Mondaire Jones, for the documentary, but that never happened.”

The Facebook photos raised questions about the station’s intent about potentially taking a view on an event that wasn’t local. Officials said residents contacted village trustees to voice concerns.

At last week’s village budget meeting after the PCTV board presented its next fiscal year’s budget, the conversation quickly pivoted to the Washington trip and the Facebook posts.

“A number of villagers approached me and there were some strong feelings about this,” Village Trustee David Vinjamuri said. “Some people asked if there was a counter narrative that PCTV was providing.”

The events prompted confusion over the sometimes-blurred lines of what constitutes free local access for residents to voice their opinions, the contractual agreement between PCTV and the village to broadcast board meetings and commercial use of PCTV staff and studio.

Village Trustee Nicole Asquith asked if there was a line between what PCTV does for the village and what it does commercially.

“Part of the concern is it looked like the village was taking a position,” she said of the Jan. 6 Facebook post. “That wasn’t your intention but there is a potential for misunderstanding. Is there a firewall between what is village content and not village content?”

According to McGaffey, commercial work shot and edited by PCTV does not air on the station unless the program’s producer grants permission to have it shown. Also, FCC guidelines places limits on content that can air on public access.

Several years ago, PCTV was encouraged by officials to seek outside funds by procuring commercial business, donations and private sources of funding so the station wouldn’t solely depend financially on the village.

Municipalities receive 5 percent of the gross revenues derived from subscribers’ cable bills and use that money to support its local Public, Educational and Government (PEG) stations under the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984.

Of each dollar Pleasantville receives from the local cable companies, 57 cents go to PCTV.

“You’re supporting public access because we have that service contract,” McGaffey told the Village Board. “But actually, the taxpayer isn’t paying for any of that. What the taxpayer is paying for is public access to producers’ shows we are contracted to do for village residents.”

The three-year service contract between the village and PCTV, which expires at the end of 2021, stipulates that the village pays for 90 shows a year consisting mainly of various municipal board meetings.

PCTV’s proposed budget for the next three years is asking for a 20 percent funding increase from the village. Since 2016, the station’s funding from the village has remained at $100,000 a year.

The PCTV board has justified the request to fix outdated content, improve the station’s website search engine and increase its presence on social media. In 2020 it ran a nearly $41,000 deficit, with operating costs at $193,540 and revenue of $152,647.

The station’s two paid staff members are McGaffey and Evelyn Tierney, the marketing manager. Fundraisers, donations and fees for commercial productions are other funding sources.

Mayor Peter Scherer questioned the motivation of the Washington D.C. trip from a financial perspective.

“In the end, it’s not realistic in an environment when you’re running a deficit to invest in those kinds of resources in a specific project, except for a clear reason,” Scherer said.

Focusing on the American flag was a topic McGaffey and Garbarini viewed as one that would engage Pleasantville residents and eventually be part of a series on conflict resolution.

“We’re trying to engage residents in a conversation and bring people together from both sides of the aisle to find common ground,” McGaffey said.

He also explained that local producers create programs that attract attention.

“That helps us win awards and we are easier to market who we are,” he said. “You have to do some things that grab people’s eyeballs and make them say ‘This is interesting.’”

PCTV Board Treasurer Nick Antonaccio said that the essence of public access TV was to make the studio available to any Pleasantville citizen wishing to produce their own content.

“We’ve had several shows over the years that have been political in nature and we keep our studio open to that,” he said. “We expect to receive a donation for other shows we’ve done with Andrea.”

Jonathan Cunningham, an 18-year PCTV board member who previously served as a village trustee, reaffirmed the station’s mission in light of the trip to Washington.

“To try to generalize that one thing in the overall mission of the station is a mistake,” Cunningham said. “The residents and taxpayers and the Board of Trustees can be confident that issue is not an issue or something to stick a pole in a ground and make decisions around. We’re all aware of the sensitivity to that.”

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