Urbana considers content guidelines for access channel

By Mike Monson, Urbana News-Gazette

The Urbana city council will consider Monday night a revised policies and procedures manual for Urbana Public Television that, in general, opposes censorship of objectionable public access programming – despite controversy about locally shown anti-Semitic programming.

One member of the Jewish community, Judy Checker of Urbana, says she's unhappy that more isn't being done to screen out public-access programming that she considers to be hate speech.

The Urbana Public Television manual update is the first since 2004 and was brought about, in part, because of a controversy last year about broadcasting of a public-access program that some members of Champaign-Urbana's Jewish community, including Checker, considered to be anti-Semitic. That programming was submitted by an elderly Urbana resident, Timothy Brumleve. Checker said the program was put together by the Rev. Ted Pike of the National Prayer Network, an Oregon-based minister.

"They were airing a program that was something like would appear in Nazi Germany," she said. "It said old Jews were molesting babies. It was very extreme stuff, very offensive, very upsetting to the Jewish community.

"By showing these, you're creating an environment conducive to violence," she said.

Checker said that the programs have upset her so much, she has considered moving out of the community after living here for 42 years.

"I'm no longer happy about this community," she said.

But Urbana City Attorney Ronald O'Neal said that if Urbana wants to be able to continue to show public access programming (UPTV shows both governmental and public access programming), the city will have to put up with sometimes obnoxious programs.

He said the city can legally block programs that are obscene or promote violence.

"But we cannot not air something because we don't like the political content," he said. "If we say we're not going to air his (Ted Brumleve's) videos, we'd have to say we can't air anybody's political videos. You're opening a Pandora's box."

O'Neal said that if Brumleve's sponsored programs were blocked, the city would likely not be able to show outside programs like "Democracy Now," or sermons from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrahkan, whose sermons have been showing on UPTV. Farrahkan also has a history of anti-Semitic remarks.

O'Neal said he did tell the Urbana Public Television Commission that they could solve the problem by only accepting locally produced public access programming, and no longer accepting third-party produced programs. But the commission declined to take that step.

Defining hate speech is the difficulty that most cities run into when they try and regulate content for public access channels, O'Neal added. In most cases, those ordinances have been struck down by the courts, he said.

Barbara Gladney, a longtime member of the UPTV commission, said commission members were torn.

"You can't put yourself out on a limb and get sued for it," she said. "We don't want to put the city in that position."

She said the commission does encourage residents "to do counter programming," to rebut objectionable content. "That has been done," she said.

The city council meets as the committee of the whole at 7 p.m. in the Urbana City Building, 400 S. Vine St., to discuss the issue.

Gladney noted that the updated manual includes new language that "the city of Urbana does not condone or endorse speech that promotes fear, hatred, prejudice or discrimination toward any group based on religion, ethnicity, race, gender or sexual orientation."

The manual also makes clear that the station isn't going to silence controversial programs.

"UPTV believes that when it comes to controversial content in programming, the correct response is to encourage more speech, as opposed to enforcing silence," according to a new manual provision. "UPTV encourages anyone who disagrees with a program to produce counter-programming presenting an opposing point of view."

Urbana Alderwomen Danielle Chynoweth, D-Ward 2, said that in its public access role, UPTV is "a free-speech venue, much like a street or a sidewalk is.

"We can regulate time and location, but we don't regulate content," she said.

The proposed revision does give precedence to locally produced programming over outside programming, and limits how many times programs may be repeated on the air.

For Checker, the changes aren't enough. She said she sat in on some of the early commission meetings, but she said she felt the panel wasn't taking the complaints of the Jewish community seriously enough, with the exception of Gladney.

"This is defamation in the larger sense of the word of a whole group of people, and it shouldn't be allowed, with our taxpayers' money."

article originally published at http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2008/04/12/censorship_unlikely_on_public_....

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