Balance sought for public TV channel


Published: Wednesday, January 7, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 7, 2004 at 12:02 a.m.
The ideal is art and enlightenment. The reality is often graphic violence and sex.
Trying to get the former while regulating the latter is the dilemma that confronted Gainesville and Alachua County commissioners when they met jointly Tuesday night to review three proposals for a public access channel.
"What can we do to be almost surgical in fostering the best of free speech but at the same time be vigilant of the garbage?" asked Gainesville City Commissioner Warren Nielsen. "A community that can express ideas to a limit (of what is acceptable) is creative, it is pushing the envelope. My concern is how do you strike the balance?"
Commissions have been mulling the creation of a public access channel since summer, when a group of residents began pushing for it.
Proponents said it will allow the community to express itself through shows on music, religion, gardening, nature, comedy and drama.
"We are here so we can have an alternative to what we see on TV at all times," said advocate Raquel Garcia, a documentary filmmaker. "This is about the quality of life in this community."
But Hillsborough County Commissioner Ronda Storms said the programming can be far different.
Storms said public access channels in the Tampa area have shown video of a man committing suicide by shooting himself in the head and of a woman getting beaten in Ybor City, both to the catcalls and hyping commentary of show hosts.
Graphic sexual shows are also common, she said. The Ku Klux Klan had a show, as did an anti-Semitic group.
"Everything goes. There is nothing you can do about it," Storms said. "We have attempted to cut off funding and to regulate standards. We couldn't do it."
The reason, said Alachua County Attorney Dave Wagner and others, is because courts have held that once a public access channel is created it must be open to all comers. The time during which graphic shows are broadcast can be regulated and confined to the midnight hours.
A possible option, they said, is creating a community access channel. Typically, community access channels are run by a school system, college or some other government entity. The scope of its programming is more limited from the outset.
The trade-off is that it is not completely open to the public.
Three proposals for a public access television station were presented. Gainesville broadcaster Harvey Budd proposed a channel that would cost $72,000 the first year to operate while Garcia scripted a channel at a cost of $937,519. Ron Hebert of Clearwater proposed a channel that would cost $324,000.
The three proposals varied in the amount of time they would broadcast, available equipment, whether programming would be live, taped or a combination of the two.
Commissioners will further study the issues and the proposals.
Cindy Swirko can be reached at 374-5024 or swirkoc@gvillesun.com.

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