Texas Settlement Restores Access Net


Palestine, Texas-The City Council here voted last Monday to restore a public-access channel, resolving a First Amendment legal battle over whether the city had eliminated the channel to silence a critic of local government.

Joe Ed Bunton, who hosts a call-in show titledQuestions & Answers, sued in federal court after the city proposed last November to eliminate the public-access channel in the course of renewing a Time Warner Cable franchise, according to the Alliance for Community Media, a non-profit organization that supports public, educational and access (PEG) channels.

In June, Bunton, represented on a pro bono basis by Peter Hopkins of Washington, D.C., law firm Spiegel and McDiarmid, obtained an injunction that put his show back on the air. The vote to restore the access channel settles the case and means that other public-access programming will also return to this East Texas city of about 18,000 residents, Alliance executive director Bunnie Riedel said.

Riedel said Bunton and his co-host, Suzanne Meaux, have also set up a nonprofit organization, ACETV, to help administer public-access television in Palestine.

"This is a victory for public access," Hopkins said in a news release from the Alliance.

The Alliance for Communications Democracy also helped bring Hopkins and Jackie Cox of the Texas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, into the case.

Meanwhile, a Seattle public-access producer, who has dueled with the local operator in the past about his use of pornographic content, is on the brink of losing on-air privileges.

AT & T Broadband sent Mike Aivaz, host ofMike Hunt for President, a formal warning that he faces a disciplinary hearing for showing multiple clips of content from hard-core pornographic movies, the operator reported.

Aivaz's show is telecast at 1 a.m., and the offensive material was shown Aug. 29 and rerun on Sept. 1, according to AT & T Broadband. The operator issued the warning after complaints from area viewers.

Aivaz could not be reached for comment.

Steve Kipp, a spokesman for AT & T Broadband, said a hearing board will convene early in October.

AT & T has also alerted digital customers that they can screen out the programming using set-top controls. Analog customers that want the signal blocked can ask AT & T to do so.

Aivaz's sex-oriented cable show was bumped by then-operator Tele-Communications Inc. in 1998. After TCI went to court to make sure it was on solid legal ground, U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour ruled that the content could be considered obscene but said TCI's procedures may have violated Aivaz's right to due process.

Aivaz said he would appeal and won support from the American Civil Liberties Union.

TCI decided to let Aivaz resume the show, but created a three-member board that would provide due process in the case of future problems.