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Seminole says Channel 15 for government's use only

Published Feb. 15, 2006

(ran West, Seminole editions)

The city's new television channel may be paid for with public tax money, but residents can forget about using it to exercise their First Amendment rights.

The channel is strictly for airing the government's side of things, at least according to the first sentence of a proposed policy that Seminole council members were scheduled to discuss during a Tuesday workshop.

"Seminole TV - Channel 15 is a government access channel that serves as one of the official sources of public information for the city of Seminole," reads the introduction to the proposed policy.

Two sentences later, it reads: "STV-15 is not a public access channel for the purposes of promoting the First Amendment rights of individuals or groups. It is an official activity of Seminole's municipal government."

As such, the policy states that the city is solely responsible for the content and for ensuring that the operation complies with all laws concerning government access channels.

Seminole is not trying to silence residents, City Manager Frank Edmunds said. The issue is that it's a "government access channel," not a "public access channel."

"There is a definite distinction between the two," Edmunds said. Under the city's contract with Time Warner (now taken over by Bright House), the company must provide a government access channel to give an outlet for city information.

Edmunds said that does not mean it will be the city's official spin on things.

"It shouldn't necessarily be a city view. It should be to get the information out on local government activities . . . to try to make local government more accessible to our residents," Edmunds said.

Access to the channel is likely to become more of an issue around election time because televised meetings give incumbents a chance to emote for the cameras. Challengers do not have that opportunity.

That's become an issue in next-door Pinellas Park where mayoral challenger Randy Heine has demanded, and been refused, access to that city's channel. Heine has responded by attacking incumbent Mayor Bill Mischler during the public comment portion of the meetings.

The council has responded by limiting Heine to three minutes and forbidding him from making political statements. However, last Thursday they allowed a Mischler supporter to make political statements supporting the mayor and criticizing Heine.

Edmunds said he's aware of such disputes and has attempted to head them off in Seminole's proposed policy, which specifically bans candidates, be they challenger or incumbent, from appearing on a cablecast except in three situations.

One of those would be incumbents who will be pictured during regularly scheduled meetings. Another would be when the names and pictures of council members are shown as part of a lineup of city officials. The third would be during a televised candidates forum if it is co-sponsored by the city.

"We have tried to deal with that the best we can under those guidelines," Edmunds said.

The city has also tried to anticipate other possible problems that could arise. The proposed policy would ban certain other things, such as advertising lotteries, commercial advertising, the promotion of religion, defamatory material and indecent or obscene content.