On March 25th it was announced that KMBH, the RGV’s sole provider of PBS content, was sold to MBTV, a subsidiary of RC Communications. Plagued by bad finances for years, the Roman Catholic Diocese ran the station poorly (they ran a $400,000 deficit last year) and was selective in the content it allowed on the air. In addition, sources say the money it received to run the station was also used for church activities not affiliated with the station. In short, this sale was a long time coming and the Diocese losing its claim on public television isn’t necessarily a bad thing all together.
MBTV has said it will still run PBS programming (for now) and will give the church 8 hours of monthly content. Though this will keep PBS content available to RGV, it’s destined to raise concerns about public content shown on private airwaves. However, to say that public content was not run by a special interest group in the past is disingenuous and inaccurate. The Catholic-run station refused to run content that challenged the church, such as a 2007 Frontline documentary entitled “Hand of God” that dealt with sexual abuse by clergymen.
Still, broadcasting public content on private for-profit airwaves is still worrisome. Though it’s still up in the air whether PBS will give the OK on this, it’s possible that MBTV will be just as biased in its decisions about PBS content as the church was.
The valley needs an alternative to this. It needs a station that is its own. It needs one that has no allegiances or obligations to anyone or anything besides the best interest of the people of the Rio Grande Valley. It needs one that is willing to run locally created content that challenges decisions made city officials and chambers of commerce instead of simply airing its town hall meetings. It needs one that is capable of creating real discussions in the community. It needs one that can empower the people.
The valley is at a crossroads right now. It is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country. Investments are coming fast and development is on the rise. Yet, we still don’t fully understand who will benefit most from this growth. We still don’t understand who is in control and what power dynamics we’ll be left with in 10 to 15 years as a result.
Without the voice of the people sounding loud across the airwaves, it is unlikely that they will get a chance to affect this growth. It is possible that without a true public channel, the people will be left with an RGV that is no longer their own, but simply another hub in a larger network of economic activity.