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Public access TV station stays alive

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

Hillsborough County's public access television station will continue its broadcasts for now.

Commissioners on Wednesday narrowly accepted the station's proposed remedies for alleged contractual breaches, including new time slots for adult shows and random audits of its programming to check for problems such as copyright violations.

But commissioners made it clear they intend to take a hard look at the station's $350,000-a-year contract.

"We're delighted that we got the support that we needed and that the majority of people on that board understand the issue of free speech," said Louise Thompson, president of Speak Up Tampa Bay, the nonprofit group that runs the station. "Do I think it's over? No."

Commissioners voted 4-3 to accept the agreement, with Commissioners Ronda Storms, Jim Norman and Stacey Easterling dissenting. Norman said he would bring the station's contract up for discussion during budget deliberations.

Tom Scott, who had earlier voted with the dissenters to find the station in breach, said he was accepting the agreement on the advice of county attorneys. Rejecting the agreement would probably have led to the station's being shut down, and Scott said he was told the lawsuits that would likely follow would be tough to defend.

"At some point we have to deal with reason and logic," Scott said.

Commissioner Chris Hart also invoked the staff's advice in explaining why he changed sides.

Storms, who has been complaining for months about public access, said the station continued to violate its contract even during settlement negotiations. She said that showed the station would continue to break rules, new agreement or not.

"My point goes to credibility," Storms said. "They're making new promises and saying this time they're really, really, really going to honor the contract."

Storms began her campaign against the station in March after the airing of a show featuring graphic nudity. But she failed to persuade the state attorney's office to bring criminal obscenity charges against the producer.

She then alleged a series of contract breaches against the station stemming from the show, including that its producer, Charles Perkins, failed to identify himself in credits and did not secure talent releases from people on his program.

Perkins was recently suspended from public access for 90 days for again failing to identify himself in show credits on a program that aired this month.

Under the new agreement, station operators will randomly review 5 to 10 percent of all shows after they are broadcast to look for policy violations. They will secure talent and copyright releases and have adopted a new programming grid that attempts to ensure all adult-oriented shows air after 11 p.m.