Commissioners nix proposal for public access TV channel

Published: Tuesday, January 31, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 30, 2006 at 11:45 p.m.
A proposal for a public access television channel was rejected Monday because of cost and potential content, and instead officials will explore the creation of a scaled-down station that could possibly limit offensive programming.
The decision by the Alachua County and Gainesville city commissions reflected both a desire to provide an outlet for homegrown programs and squeamishness over shows that could be graphically violent or sexual.
"I'll confess to some concern about the idea of having what some might term offensive content, but I also see an opportunity to have excellent programming . . . ," Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan said.
She added that under an alternative, "We would have a citizens advisory panel that is defining the breadth of what would be allowed. They could say it is the cooking and fishing shows but it is not people torturing small animals."
County officials said few limits can be placed on graphic programming on a public access channel. Greater regulation is allowed on government or education channels - both of which already air locally.
The decision disappointed public-access advocates, including some involved with the proposal.
Advocates said violent or sexual programming could be shown after midnight as a way to regulate it.
"Imagine . . . at the founding of this country the founders got up and articulated, 'I love the principal of free speech but I am very concerned that someone, somewhere, sometime might say something unpleasant,' " said Charlie Grapski, a local activist.
The two commissions negotiated a new channel with Cox Communications in 2004. As part of the deal Cox will provide $250,000 for a public access, education or government channel.
One proposal was filed by the initial deadline. Other public access advocates said the procedure was flawed and asked that the process be reopened.
The city and county agreed to accept new proposals and, again, just one bid was submitted from a different group - Public Access Television-North Central Florida.
Staff recommended the proposal be denied because of the low scores it received from an evaluation panel, an initial four-year cost of $2 million and programming concerns.
County Commissioner Mike Byerly suggested using Cox's $250,000 to create a channel that would start with minimal programming and use city and county staff to assist the public with programming. Expansion would occur if advocates raise added money.
"Let's get it started. Once it's on, it will become its own best advertising," Byerly said. "I don't think we should let a worst-case scenario make us forego a great opportunity."
Commissioners voted to reject the sole proposal and instead asked staff to develop alternatives within three months.
County commissioners voted unanimously with Rodney Long absent. City commissioners voted 5-1 with Rick Bryant dissenting and Ed Braddy absent.
Cindy Swirko can be reached at 374-5024 or

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