Tampa Public Access Organization Files Lawsuit Against Hillsborough County
I've been trying for a while to figure a compelling story on the fight local public access TV producers have been waging in Hillsborough and Pinellas to survive in the face of the decision to end their funding by their respective county governments.
Today, Speak Up Tampa Bay, the Hillsborough-based public access group, made it a whole lot easier, filing a lawsuit against Hillsborough County for its decision to end funding for their program Sept. 20 and bar them from accessing the facility starting last Sunday.
"The vote to terminate Speak Up’s funding was just a pretext for unconstitutional censorship of protected speech," said David M. Snyder, counsel for Speak Up, in a press release they sent out just hours ago. "Terminating public access funding of $355,443 while maintaining more than $2 million for government access television, is the government playing favorites based who is speaking and what they are saying. It is a violation of the First Amendment.”
It's something I wrote about on this blog regarding Pinellas County's system and something I hoped to come back to very soon. Their biggest problem: most TV viewers don't watch cable access, and likely don't value the programming much. Proponents say it is the least cable companies can do for the community in exchange for access to all the land where their fiber optic lines are strewn.
I say, Why should government get the benefit of millions in cable fees to support a channel telling us how great our local government is? Almost seems like a consolation prize for the new system where cable regs are set by the state instead of local municipalities.
I'm going to try hard to pull together a story on this in the coming days. Until then, here's Speak Up's press release:
Speak Up Files First Amendment Lawsuit Against Hillsborough County
[TAMPA] Speak Up Tampa Bay Public Access Television, Inc. today filed a lawsuit in
Federal court [Case No. 8:07-CV-1782] against the Hillsborough Board of County
Commissioners and Hillsborough County. The lawsuit asks the court to intervene by
enjoining the County from terminating the non-profit’s funding and access center
management contract as a result of its cable-cast of protected speech and programming.
The suit comes after the BOCC terminated the rights of its residents to use the public access
facility after September 30, 2007.
Speak Up Executive Director Louise Thompson added, "As a result of the September 20,
2007, vote to terminate our funding, Hillsborough County’s unincorporated area residents will
no longer be able to broadcast their viewpoints on our channels. Neither will they be able
take advantage of training, equipment, facilities and services offered at Tampa Bay