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Cieslewicz takes aim at WYOU

About once a month, Mayor Dave Cieslewicz hosts a brown bag lunch in his office for city alders. He uses the meeting to float proposals. Last week, he dropped a few bombshells.

Cieslewicz, who is currently drafting his 2009 operating budget, suggested eliminating funding for WYOU, Madison's community access channel, on the air since 1975.

"If this were a normal budget year, I wouldn't propose this," explains Cieslewicz in an interview.

Madison is facing a tough year, with Cieslewicz asking city departments to recommend 5% budget cuts. He wants to give the $140,000 WYOU now gets (from a monthly fee paid to cable subscribers) to Madison City Channel, which broadcasts government meetings and civic events. This would spare the city from having to supplement City Channel's budget with property tax dollars.

The $140,000 makes up 80% of WYOU's budget, says Guy Swansbro, the station's interim director. Without it, "It would all be over. It would certainly wipe us out."

WYOU has organized a petition drive to save the channel's funding (the public can sign at, and station officials will meet with the mayor this week. "This isn't the first time we've had to fight the city," says Swansbro.

Mary Cardona, director of the Wisconsin Association of PEG Access Channels, thinks it's a mistake to de-fund WYOU. "The viewers are going to be the big losers," she says. "The people of Madison have a lot to say. It would be a real shame if they didn't have a voice on cable anymore."

Cieslewicz says the Internet fulfills the public's need to broadcast: "A lot of what WYOU does is now done on YouTube."

The mayor insists his goal is not to kill WYOU, but to find efficiencies. "I understand WYOU provides a service," he says. "I want to discuss with them if there's a way to do it differently."

For instance, he suggests that WYOU could share studio space with Madison City Channel. That would allow it to continue broadcasting. "At the end of the day," says Cieslewicz, "you might not see much difference."


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