Florida Counties Cutting PEG Access

No More Public Access?
by Alex Pickett
Creative Loafing
07/24/07

Democracy for America? The Keg Show? Straight From Da Streets? As of Sept. 30, you may no longer have your share of these and 97 other alternative programs on Pinellas County’s public access TV channel. As you may have heard by now, the Pinellas County’s communications department head Marcia Crawley has submitted a budget to the board of county commissioners that cuts all funds to Access Pinellas.

Producers and supporters are up in arms, especially over comments by Crawley that public access is not as necessary in the Internet age. Meanwhile, the county’s government channel — filled with meetings and programs on commissioners’ pet issues — will remain intact.

“The cable subscribers should be enraged because they are paying for these services under the franchise agreements,” says Louise Thompson of Tampa Bay Community Network (Hillsborough County’s public access station).

I talked with Thompson last week about the situation in Pinellas as part of an upcoming news story that will appear this week in CL. At the time, she expressed worry Hillsborough County might face the same cuts. Turns out she was right. Hillsborough County officials have submitted a budget that would slash the $355,000 TBCN receives from the county’s coffers. (For more on that, see the Political Whore’s blog).

Pinellas County public access TV producers plan to flood the BOCC meeting this evening with supporters, trying to convince the commissioners to hold their budget ax steady. (Formal budget hearings don’t occur until the beginning of September.)

In a press release sent out today, Dr. Mary Riggin, president of PCTV’s board of directors, calls on all interested parties to show up at 6:30 p.m.:

“Public access is the citizens‚ soapbox. We own it. We pay for it every month on our cable bills. Though the franchise fees have been diverted to the general fund, we pay for the general fund expenditures with our taxes. While other agencies and companies and even our households are straining to make responsible budget cuts, the Communications Department has left all of it’s boom-time extravagances in place and met the demand to reduce the budget by simply deleting the one thing the public wants from it: community access television. It is unacceptable that county staff and the Board of County Commissioners are taking this cavalier approach under the guise of fiscal responsibility.

“Even with mandated budget cuts the county can still afford to give the citizens access to this free speech channel. All it will take to is a few responsible economies with public funds, the funds you and I provide that they are trusted to administer. We want to make that very clear to the board of commissioners that irresponsible management will not be tolerated by the citizens they serve.”
http://blogs.creativeloafing.com/blurbex/2007/07/24/no-more-public-access/

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