Lipstick on a pig

I was raised by a mother who grew up in the 1920’s and 1930’s on a cotton farm in Delano, California.  She was a transplanted Texan who used many country colloquialisms and passed the same onto me.  One of my favorites was “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.”  Her favored vernacular gave me a fond appreciation for language and how language can be used to make something sound like something it’s not.

Last week, I received a talking points sheet on “Local Choice.”  Everybody likes “choice” right?  I mean we’re red-blooded Americans after all.  The document deals with the broadcast retransmission battle going on in Congress involving the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act or STELA.  The premise of Local Choice is to put power into the hands of the cable subscriber by “allowing” them to choose whether or not to pay for broadcast stations.   And it poses a direct payment system by which broadcasters charge the subscriber a set rate, cable collects the fee and gives it back to the broadcasters. 

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The fact sheet talks about how there will be no more hidden retransmission costs on their subscribers bills and offers them more opportunity to control the cost of their cable bill.  It also guarantees that religious stations, PBS stations and PEG access station programming will be carried like they are today.

Pig with lipstick still equals pig, as my mama would say.  And frankly, it’s one helluva dangerous pig.

First, this plan has cable operators stumbling straight into the a-la-carte battle, one they will surely lose if they adopt this model.  We cable subscribers are paying $7.50 or more per month to get ESPN.  And frankly, I don’t like having to pay for MSNBC, the Golf Channel, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Disney, MTV, Style, ABC Family, E! Entertainment, and the Learning Channel (which hasn’t taught anybody anything in quite some time).  So just eliminating those from my lineup would save me about $11.50 a month or $138.00 per year.  Actually it’s probably more -- my calculations are based on a Time Warner programming cost filing that’s over a year old.

Second, it’s cable’s attempt to squeeze out the broadcasters, something us PEG folks know quite a bit about.  We are the canary in the coal mine when it comes to dealing with cable operators.  We know from our experience they never, ever do anything that doesn’t benefit them and they are certainly willing to tell localism to go take a hike, evidenced by what they have done to PEG access television in twenty-two states. 

Which cracks me up all the more reading the fact sheet. They say this plan will “reinvigorate key national broadcasting values like localism and serving the public interest.”  The only localism cable operators have ever had was what we provided them on the PEG channels and even then, they do everything they can to wipe us out.  And as for public interest?  Please pig, just because you thought you’d look good with Cover Girl #195, it doesn’t take away the fact that you are a pig.

Third, and most important to PEG, having a Basic tier that is reduced to PEG, PBS and Home Shopping, ghettoizes us yet again.  It’s bad enough Charter slams our channels to 980 and BrightHouse slams us into the 600’s, taking away our proximity to the local broadcast channels puts us smack into the desert. 

I do appreciate that PEG receives a nod in the document but giving us a nod and coming out with a robust endorsement are two different things.  I have spent four years working on the Community Access Preservation Act which will preserve and protect PEG access television, I could use a bit more love, like right now

My only hope is that somehow this plan gets the light of day it deserves, in the mainstream media.  It is my belief that if I surveyed 100,000 people tomorrow they would tell me, to a person, that they hate cable.  And they would further tell me how much they love their local broadcasters, many even going so far as to name anchors or show segments.  So there’s a part of me that hopes this plan gets some head wind so we can have a robust national discussion on cable a-la-carte.

That would be a pig I wouldn’t mind kissin'.

Riedel is executive director of American Community Television, an organization advocacting on Capitol Hill for Public, Educational and Government (PEG) access television and working for passage of the Community Access Preservation Act, S. 1789.