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County urges counterprograming

Norman Gross was watching television with his grandson when white separatist Herbert Poinsett's show, Race and Reason, came on Jones Intercable's public access station.

"Grandpa, can they do this?" his grandson said. "I can't believe it."

Gross wrote a letter to the Hillsborough County Commission, which on Thursday unanimously recommended that concerned people such as Gross start their own programs.

"I think when we talk about the image of Hillsborough County and who we are and who we want be, this kind of programing needs to have serious counteraction," Commissioner Phyllis Busansky said.

Gross, who lives in Palm Harbor but whose family lives in Tampa, is unsure whether or not he will accept the commission's advice. He just wants Poinsett's live call-in show, which airs at 7 p.m. Fridays, off the air.

"We hate to have to do this," Gross said of starting his own program. "We just want to get rid of him."

Gross recommended in his letter that the commission force Jones Intercable to adopt standards similar to Vision Cable in Pinellas County, which does not broadcast Poinsett's program. Vision Cable requires users of its public access station to sign a Declaration of Compliance promising not "to defame any group and to refrain from recruitment."

Assistant County Attorney Jane Fagan said Jones Intercable has a similar but less explicit set of standards that prohibits material that is "libelous, slanderous or obscene."

The problem, however, is enforcement. The county is legally prohibited by the first amendment and the Federal Communications Commission from banning certain shows from a public access station, Fagan said.

Besides meeting with the Cable Advisory Committee on July 15, county commissioners can do little else except make recommendations to residents.

"I guess the problem, in that respect, we are limited," Fagan said. "One of the things you want to encourage is counterprograming. There's so much diversity in the community. It's just a matter of signing up for training."