Public Access TV Is an Important Free-Speech Forum

RECEIVED Tue., April 14, 2009

Michael King,
    The fact is, Austin taxpayers do not subsidize public access TV [“Point Austin,” News, April 10]. Funding comes (rather unwillingly) from the cable companies and phone companies that sell television programming, through a supposed pass-through arrangement controlled by city officials. Time Warner passes this cost along to its subscribers, many of whom are taxpayers, but the money does not come from the General Fund. If anything, the city of Austin makes money on the franchise agreement, which also funds Channel 6 and the ME Television entertainment channel.
    Public access TV is a free-speech forum already under attack by the cable companies and the phone companies, and there are numerous reasons why the current management of the Austin channels (PACT/ChannelAustin) should not be funded by city taxpayers, but failure to exercise editorial control over its producers is not among them.
    Each producer is required to follow the laws regarding libel, slander, obscenity, etc., and each can be held responsible if they break those laws. If you disagree with something that you see or hear on the public access channels, well, make your own show expressing your opinion. You are fortunate to have the Chronicle to use as your soapbox, but most ideas and philosophies do not see public expression in the available forums. I don’t want to go into the pros and cons of that matter, but freedom of speech is a core principle of this nation. The fact that Alex Jones has successfully learned to avoid the stumbling blocks is no reason to call for his removal from the channels.
Jon Wright
   [News Editor Michael King responds: Time Warner is required (under its publicly granted franchise) to underwrite equipment and operations at PACT, to a project formally granted nonprofit tax status, in a building owned by the city and an operation directed and managed by city administrators. In all these ways, taxpayers are certainly subsidizing public access TV; the entire project would not even exist without the support and administration of the city and the public. As I wrote, Alex Jones has long been using the nonprofit context of PACT and its public support to promote his private commercial interests – websites, DVD sales, and radio broadcasting – and he is certainly violating the spirit if not the letter of the ChannelAustin principles. It's not about his content, and I stand by what I wrote.]
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