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    TV compromise not enough for Storms

    As a public access settlement advances, the commissioner continues to lob in complaints.

    By BILL VARIAN, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published July 17, 2002


    TAMPA -- Hillsborough County negotiators have finalized a proposal to fix the concerns commissioners have about the policing of programming on public access television.

    But Commissioner Ronda Storms is saying not so fast.

    Storms is reportedly raising concerns about a new tape that aired during the nearly three months of talks. It included commercial content, which is forbidden under the policies of the station.

    Storms did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment Tuesday. But station operators and county staff participating in the talks said Storms is upset about a program called Whine and Cheeze, which aired in late June.

    The program includes plugs for sponsors, rather than a more perfunctory thank you, station officials confirmed. It aired initially in 1995, but a tape of the show was played again recently.

    The unauthorized commercials were actually noticed by Louise Thompson, president of Speak Up Tampa Bay, the nonprofit group that runs the station. She raised concerns that they crossed the line, and the show was subsequently pulled. But not before it came to Storms' attention.

    Storms has repeatedly said that Speak Up is violating its contract with the county by failing to properly police the content of shows aired on public access.

    "The phrase she's fond of using is that we're 'thumbing our nose at the county,' " said Greg Koss, the executive director of Speak Up. "That's not the case at all. I'm a little surprised that while we're diligently working on a solution, she's out there loading up on ammo."

    Storms initially directed her ire at a program called The Happy Show, which included close-up footage of female genitalia. State Attorney Mark Ober declined her request to find the show criminally obscene.

    Storms alleged that the station violated its contract because it failed to make sure producers aired required mature audience warnings, obtained copyright permission for songs played, received signed releases from people on their programs and properly identified themselves. Commissioners subsequently voted 5-2 to find the station in breach of its $350,000 annual contract.

    The proposed fix, which will be presented to commissioners July 24, has four parts:

    It would require Speak Up to create a programming grid to ensure mature audience shows run late at night, a process already under way.

    It would spell out exactly what the mature audience warning would say -- including that the show may have "language and subject matter unsuitable for children."

    It would require Speak Up to provide training on copyright clearances and model releases and require each producer to provide them in advance. Omissions or inaccuracies could result in suspension.

    It would require Speak Up to "audit" from 5 to 10 percent of the shows after they air to make sure the rules are being followed.

    Station operators say they are prevented from screening shows in advance because it would open them up to charges of prior restraint of free speech if they were to keep a show off the air.

    The county staff who negotiated the settlement stop short of recommending its approval, instead saying the proposal "addresses" their concerns.

    "Ultimately, it's their decision whether it's an adequate response," said Eric Johnson, the management and budget director who headed up the talks for the county.

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