- 419K

The twenty protestors assembled outside the station’s midtown building chanted “Take back MNN” and held signs demanding the rehiring of fired worker Jennifer Wager. Wager has filed a wrongful termination case with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB); she claims she was singled out when she set out to unionize MNN’s workers in response to deteriorating labor conditions at the station.

The community producers protesting outside the station charge MNN is reducing services to community organizations. They cite the shrinking size of the station’s Community Media Department (which has seen its staff halved over the last twelve months), the closing of a production facility in East Harlem, and the curtailment of a $250,000 community media grant program, as illustrations of reduced community services by the station.

Community producer Jay Toole, Director of The Shelter Project/Queers For Economic Justice, stated “We started with MNN a year ago. We went through training with our homeless clients so they could make TV shows about their lives; but closing the Community Media Department puts a hold on that.” Protestors charge that these cut backs and the recent layoff of five staff members have occurred as upper management’s salaries have grown.

Intermittently during the press conference, groups of staff still working inside the station peered through windows or leaned over the building’s roof parapet to signal a “thumbs-up” to the protestors on the sidewalk outside.

Underlying the brewing crisis at MNN is the lapse of New York City’s telecommunication franchise with Time Warner; the franchise provides the money needed for the operation of the city’s community access TV stations.

On hand to refute protestors’ claims, MNN external affairs officer Zenaida Mendez stated it is the City of New York’s Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications (DoITT) and Time Warner who are dragging their feet in the refranchising of MNN, thereby starving the station of the funds it needs to operate. According to Mendez, the community media grant program has not been abolished, merely suspended until more funds are available.

In operation since the early 1990s, MNN has experienced upheavals over the last decade. In the early 2000s, a staff driven initiative pushing for a living wage led to the ousting of the station’s executive director. And in 2005-2006 the station was threatened by, but successfully opposed, federal legislation that would have dismantled the local franchising system that provides funds for the operation of the thousands of community access TV stations around the U.S.

Lyell Davies is a community media scholar and a founding member of the national SAVE ACCESS campaign. He worked at MNN in various capacities between 1994-2008.