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Tensions Rise In Public Access TV Dispute

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — You can add an armed security guard and a property dispute to the debate over who ought to run Albuquerque’s public access television channels.

Representatives of Quote…Unquote Inc., the company that has run the channels for 31 years, say they were greeted by an armed security guard Tuesday morning and blocked from access to their studio near Sixth and Central.

The company’s contract runs through the end of the month, and its supporters say they need to remove equipment that belongs to Quote…Unquote.

“They treat us like criminals,” board president Allen Cooper said in an interview. “It’s obscene.”

City Attorney David Tourek said the city sent security personnel to the building this week to ensure no one removes city equipment. There’s a dispute, he said, over what belongs to Quote…Unquote and what belongs to the city.

Tuesday’s dustup comes amid a tumultuous debate over the public-access TV contract.

The proposal to change operators has triggered an outpouring of support for Quote…Unquote. About 100 of supporters of the company attended a City Council vote on the matter in May.

Mayor Richard Berry’s administration hired a new company, uPublic, to take over operation of Cable Channels 26 and 27, starting July 1.

The offerings have included everything from high school sports to off-the-wall political activists. Quote…Unquote has run the channels for about $270,000 a year.

An evaluation committee rated uPublic the highest among six that responded to a request for proposals, according to the city.

But supporters of Quote…Unquote say there were flaws in the selection process, and they’ve been fighting to keep the channels. They say the uPublic proposal for the channels is more expensive and that Quote…Unquote offers more experience.

Their attempts have not succeeded.

Tourek said the city has paid Quote…Unquote what it’s owed for the month of June and is releasing it from any more obligations for the remainder of the month.

The two sides will meet today to go over who gets what, he said.

“The taxpayers have millions invested in the public access TV building,” Tourek said. “I think I have an obligation to protect the taxpayers’ funds and their equipment.”

Steve Ranieri, the company’s executive director, said pre-recorded content was programmed to run on the channels through the end of Saturday, when the contract expires. But he said Tuesday that he didn’t have access to station’s equipment to ensure that’s still the case.

As of Tuesday night, the channel had no programming but showed a message saying it would be under new management “in the coming days.”

Cooper said the city has been unnecessarily combative. The two sides already conducted an inventory, he said, to determine ownership of equipment inside the studio.

“They’re not letting us pack up,” Cooper said.

Meanwhile, by late Tuesday afternoon, one guard and about a dozen Quote…Unquote supporters seemed to be co-existing peacefully outside the building.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal