A federal appeals court has slowed Cablevision System Corp.'s bid to ban commercial solicitations from its public, educational and government access channel programming.
The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Aug. 16 vacated and remanded a district court ruling that upheld the MSO's attempt to force changes to PEG programming at its Oyster Bay, N.Y. system.
A lower court had found that Cablevision acted legally in March 1999 when it declined to air a program that included a solicitation of transcripts or tapes of the show. A cable-industry representative said the appeals court decision threatens to make PEG access "the land of infomercials."
"It's a recipe for mischief," said National Cable & Telecommunications Association spokesman Dan Brenner. "PEG is suppose to be for noncommercial purposes. Programmers should buy leased-access time. It's there, and they're entitled to it."
A PEG advocate also sounded a note of caution. Bunnie Riedel, director of the Alliance for Community Media, said the ruling threatened to allow nonprofit groups to begin "commercializing their wares."
"The court said they can do this as long as it's not for a substantial profit. Well, what's substantial? A 20-percent markup? A 30-percent markup?" Riedel asked. "PEG is not here for people to make money off of. We're here to do community service."
American Defense Monitor, offered by programmer Robert M. Goldberg and produced by the Center for Defense Information, included a 25-second closing segment that offered transcripts for $5 or tapes for $19.95. Cablevision demanded that producers delete the final 25 seconds of the program.
Goldberg complied, but later filed suit in district court, alleging that Cablevision was trying to control PEG programming content, a violation of the 1984 Cable Act.
In ruling in favor of the MSO, the lower court called Goldberg's program a "commercial transaction with his viewers."
The appellate court disagreed, saying it's common for educational programmers to make such offers, thereby expanding the reach of their message. By doing so, the producers provided "the widest possible diversity of information sources and services to the public," the court said.
Cablevision spokesman Keith Cocozza said the MSO was reviewing the decision and had no comment.