Pinellas Cable Access to go away?

07/17/07 Mitch E. Perry
WMNF Drive-Time News Tuesday | Listen to this entire show:

As Pinellas County Commissioners look at finding places in their budget to cut as mandated by property tax reform, it appears that community access television is slated to be eliminated entirely.

But producers for Access Pinellas are fighting back.

Michael Bagby, a producer with Access Pinellas, said he and others began organizing about a month ago, when they learned that the Channel was scheduled to be dismantled.

Access Pinellas currently has four paid employees. If public access goes away, two of those employees will be shifted into other jobs in the communications department, while the other two would be laid off.

The Public Access Channel, like the Government and Education Channel, is supported by franchise fees.

Marcia Crawley, director of the Pinellas County Communications Department, said cutting Access Pinellas would save the county $350,000.

Under the new property tax reform legislation, Pinellas must cut 7 percent from last year’s budget, or roughly 31 and a half million from the $449-million budget.

Currently, no cuts are planned for the county’s Government channel, which like public access, is financed by franchise fees.

Curiously, the county’s website contains a page called “Ask Spratt,” where citizens can ask questions of County Administrator Steve Spratt. One citizen asks why the county would cut Access Pinellas. Spratt doesn’t answer the question directly, instead mentioning that there is legislation in Tallahassee that could eliminate franchise fees that support Access Pinellas.

That’s true, but not germane to why the county would cut cable access now, versus taking money out of the Government channel. As it stands, no monies would be cut from the Pinellas Government channel, a channel that critics say at times acts as a propaganda agent for county government.

But the proposal to eliminate public access isn’t final yet. And producer Michael Bagby says he is trying to persuade County Commissioners that the entire program need not be cut.

Cable access producer Candi Jovan, who’s monthly show features discussions on local politics and media, urges the county to consider reducing the hours that people can use the public access facilities, but not to cut out the entire program.

Concerned citizens who want to maintain public access in Pinellas can make their voices heard by signing a petition at this [website] (http://www.www.gopetition.com/online/12004.html).

And full disclosure: This reporter appeared once on Candi Jovan’s cable access show broadcast on Access Pinellas.

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