Time short for Pinellas public access TV advocates

08/27/07 Mitch E. Perry
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Pinellas County public access television could be forced off the air next month, perhaps forever.

There are only two public hearings left for advocates for the channel to persuade Pinellas County Commissioners not to cut the entire $331,930 budget.

Producers and their supporters are putting everything on having as many people attend a public hearing on the budget on Sept. 4.

Candi Jovan hosts a show on political issues, called Democracy For America. She said she and others are looking at legal remedies to save their station.

Like every other municipal government in Florida, Pinellas needs to cuts its fiscal year budget next year as dictated by legislation signed into law earlier this year.

Marcia Crawley, Pinellas County’s director of communications, has said she had no choice but to cut public access after she was told she needed to reduce her department's budget by 15 percent. She has said that in the age of the broadband Internet service, public access is no longer the sole outlet for citizens to get their message out.

Mark Heim is, a 65-year-old public access producer and director. He says his neighbors do watch Pinellas public access shows, and rely on it.

But it will take more than a positive attitude to convince a majority of Pinellas Commissioners to see it their way. Whether through asking for a compromise or through the courts, cable access advocates say they won’t be going down with a fight.

Producer Jennifer Sloane says it’s absolutely about the First Amendment.

As it stands now, Pinellas, intends only to dismantle the Public Access Channel, one of the three channels that are funded by cable franchise fees. The government and education channels are not being affected.

Unless advocates for the channel can persuade County Commissioners in the two public hearings next month, Pinellas Access will close on Sept. 30.

Producer Jackson Yumis said that would be a shame, because he said it’s a venue for among other things, allowing citizens to reinvent themselves.

The first public hearing on the Pinellas County Budget is Sept. 4 at 6:30 at 315 Court St. in Clearwater.

Full disclosure: This reporter was a member of a panel on a couple of shows on Pinellas Public access that will be aired on the channel next month.

Click here to find the petition asking to save public access in Pinellas.

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