Lake County PEG Board Excludes Politics from Free Speech

There are few controls allowed on what citizens can put on their public access channels. No editorial control on content is legal. The term “political” is a content category not on the short list for exclusion. Nevertheless, the Lake County PEG Board passed the following content restriction over my strenuous objections.

3.5 No election related programming which favors one candidate or ballot measure shall be broadcast. Candidate forums which are public and give equal opportunity to all candidates may be broadcast. Ballot measure forums which are public and give equal opportunity to all parties may be broadcast.

Apparently, this government dominated board feels I do not have the right to use my public access channel to editorialize on ballot issues or promote candidates with new ideas. Its gets even worse. Ed Robey, Lake County’s representative, has rammed through a ban on all political programs “until the Board adopts a policy on political programs” even though TV8 has been on the air for 14 years.

At the last PEG Board meeting I was able to attend, ED Robey acting as Chair, bragged that a recent small claims complaint against the Station forced him to learn all about public access. Robey had acted boldly over the years without seeking any information about what was legal. I had been complaining that the Board had been acting as illegal censors since its inception. So I asked Ed, “So how much of your research dealt with Designated Public Forum law (The legal basis for a PEG Station) His one word answer: “None.”

If the current and past Lake County PEG reps had any interest in the law they would have kicked over gems like “Conrad v. Southeastern Promotions (1975)”, dealing with prior restraint, or “Grayned v. Rockford (1972)”, describing the test for “time, manner, and place” limitations, or the big Kahuna of public forum doctrine “Perry Education Association v. Perry Educators Association (1983), that finally cleared up the exact definition of each type of public forum with their rights and powers.

There is an amazing irony in the certainty of Lake County, Clearlake, and Lakeport representatives about how much power they think they wield over the citizens mouthpiece. The Sue Buske Group was hired to negotiate new cable franchises around 1998. Her team included an attorney to advise them on all matters legal, concerning franchises and public access. This attorney’s name is James Horwood. Any authorities preferring truth over plausible denial should check out his article, “Political Speech and PEG Access: A Legal Analysis”, Community Media Review, Winter 2002-2003.

It would not take an afternoon in a law library to learn that courts have consistently applied the “strict scrutiny” test on any public forum restrictions, demanding that they serve “a compelling State interest.” In other other words, the legislature must pass a law first before the local goobertocracy invents a new way to cut up our 1st Amendment for fish bait.

I have an opinion, based on hours of internet searches after the 2009 conspiracy against TV8, that the Lake County PEG organization has the most hostile attitude toward free speech in the Country. I’m sure many people who agree that public access has been wronged in Lake, still think this judgment is over the top. But consider these two facts: No franchiser is legally required to have a PEG Station. Cities and counties that oppose putting citizens voices on a par with theirs, simply will not ask for a PEG channel. Problem solved. Over two-thirds of the franchisers don’t have PEG channels. The others feel, on balance, that public access is a civic asset.

The only example I’ve found of a PEG station whose operations are regularly and psychotically attacked by the entity that created it is TV8 in Lake County. When I attempted to be the first outsider to use TV8 in 2004 government officials were shocked and angrily responded. The only theory I’ve come up with for this behavior is that Lake County and the city of Clearlake thought they could squeeze all the PEG equipment goodies they could from the cable franchisee without sharing them with a public that they despised. As far as I know, this puts Lake County in a small, mean, and arrogant category all by itself.

If its not obvious, once again I’m asking the Board of Supervisors to demand Ed Robey’s resignation and to educate themselves as to controlling public forum laws.

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