Can we all at least agree on this? Public access television works well in the abstract. Local voices and all that. Maybe even Pinellas County would nod assent.
But in practice, the programming is often awful. Almost always boring. Fringe preachers and assorted oddballs predominate. A tasteless minority of shows has been just shy of obscenity. Much of what airs is mostly a waste of time and money — $355,000 worth. Occasionally — and inevitably — there’s political grandstanding and censorship.
But even more wasteful is throwing good money after bad, which has been happening as Hillsborough County tenuously fights a lawsuit filed by Speak Up Tampa Bay to restore public funding of the county’s public access channel. For the county, it’s now an eminently loseable, First Amendment test case. Mediation and a leverage-lite appeal in federal district court merely delay a settlement.
During the recent county commission campaign, I broached the public abscess issue with then-candidate Kathy Castor. Her answer made sense. Would that it would also help make policy.
“I don’t want to spend money (now exceeding $140,000) on attorney fees,” said Castor. “Money is better spent recruiting better programs.” She went on to cite various not-for-profits, which could, well, profit from heightened visibility in the community. So could the community.
It should come down to this: Neither heavy-handed censorship nor appallingly vulgar and dimwitted programming should be Hobson’s choice alternatives. If reasonable, intelligent, mature, proactive, community-caring individuals would step up, then Speak Up wouldn’t have to accommodate morons. Imagine requests from the Museum of Science and Industry, Lowry Park Zoo, the Florida Aquarium, The Spring, Metropolitan Ministries, Tampa General Hospital and White Chocolate. Who doesn’t make the cut?