Duck Test for TV-3 & Censorship

Loudon County

 Banana Republic or Democracy?

By: Pat Hunter

May 24, 2009

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. When a public educational government access community channel edits public comments of citizens and commissioners, censorship is the only word that comes to mind.

Memorial Day events will commemorate our brave soldiers who have fought and died in wars to protect our freedom and liberties. The First Amendment of the United States guarantees the right of Free Speech but not in Loudon County especially when citizens petition the Government for a redress of grievances at public meetings.

How many citizen comments have there been at Commission meetings?

In 2008 about 10 citizens spoke at Commission meetings on various issues from Open Meetings to school buildings. Most citizens spoke less than a few minutes, which added just a few minutes to the end of a meeting. Citizens are permitted to speak for 5-minutes according to Commission's rules and procedures. In 2007, there were only 4 citizen comments and an additional 6 comments from county officials who spoke during citizen non-agenda items. Through May 2009, about 7 citizens have spoken so far on non-agenda items.  

The Loudon County Community Channel TV-3 is publicly funded. According to Jim Fella, Station Manager, LCTV-3 does not air public comments on non-agenda items at public meetings because that's their policy. A host of excuses have been given for editing the comments. In one breath, TV-3 advisory committee members mentioned how they cover public meetings from gavel to gavel. Later, the TV-3 Station Manager purportedly said that he spoke to an unidentified Loudon County commissioner and four other governmental agencies including Lenoir City government, Loudon City, Loudon County Board of Education and Lenoir City Board of Education. According to Fella, the politicians and agencies do not have a problem or concern with TV-3's policy of taking out citizen comments at the end of public meetings. Comments by citizens on non-agenda items are part of the official order of business of most public meetings including Loudon County Commission, Loudon County Board of Education, Lenoir and Loudon City meetings. So far, no one is willing to confirm speaking to Jim Fella. 

Agenda item number 8 was part of the May 4, Loudon County Commission Agenda but TV-3 edited about 4 minutes of comments made by three people during this brief period. TV-3 edited the comments of the Loudon County Commission Chairman Roy Bledsoe who asked if anyone wanted to speak on non-agenda commission items, a private citizen who spoke about TV-3 and another Commissioner Bob Franke who spoke in favor of leaving public comment on the Commission Agenda. However, TV-3 did not edit Mayor Arp's comments when he spoke during non-agenda items. As a side note, Mayor Doyle Arp is also the Budget Committee Chairman and Arp did not re-appoint Commissioner Franke to serve on the Budget Committee.

According to a Knoxville News Sentinel article published on April 20, 2009, "Nick Pavlis, government relations director for Charter Communications and a former Knoxville City Council member said that, in his years of experience at public television stations across the state, he has never heard of such a policy. "I've never heard of a station shutting down the camera during public comments," he said." Mr. Pavlis covers 196 communities in Tennessee and 80 in Louisiana.

After TV-3 latest editing of a public meeting, it was time to air the proof, please look at the videos on the Knoxville News Sentinel website and you decide.  Click to view KNEWS has the videos of May 4 Commission meeting including TV -3 rebroadcast -edited version. Look at the comparison - an independent video of the public meeting, which I recorded that shows all three people speaking.

For those of you that do not have high speed internet to view the videos, the article appeared in Monday's, May 18th Knoxville News Sentinel.


SOURCE: Knoxville News Sentinel

Loudon residents accuse public TV station of editing content during commission meetings


Loudon County residents concerned about the local public television station allegedly censoring public comments during recordings of governmental meetings say they have evidence that the station selectively edits those comments.

Video from a May 4 Loudon County Commission meeting shows that the station edited public comments from the recording, which was broadcast by LCTV-3 on May 8, said Pat Hunter, a Loudon County resident who records most of the meetings herself.

"It's obvious what they are doing," Hunter said. "They say they don't edit, but they do edit."

The recording made by Hunter at the commission meeting shows the public comments followed by comments from members of county commission. The broadcast version of the same meeting does not show the public comments or comments from the county commissioners.

"LCTV would not edit the recorded material, but show the 'business' portion of the meeting in its entirety," said LCTV-3 station manger Jim Fella in an April 17 letter to local government officials.

The station's policy is to turn on the camera at the start of the "business" portion of the meeting and turn it off at its conclusion, Fella said.

Public comments are listed on the beginning or the end of every agenda of every county, school or city government meeting and are absolutely a part of the "business" portion of every meeting, Hunter said.

The county rules and procedures handbook specifically states that "public comments" are to be listed on the agenda under order of business prior to adjournment, she said.

Fella said the current policy of not broadcasting public comments has the support of all the government bodies in the county that provide funding for the station, including the County Commission, the school boards, the city of Loudon and Lenoir City Council.

"No one has ever asked the commission's opinion on broadcasting public comments," said County Commissioner Bob Franke. "I think the comments should be broadcast with the rest of the meetings."

On the unedited recording of the May 4 commission meeting, Franke can be heard expressing his support for including public comments. His comments were not included in the broadcast version of the meeting.

School board member Van Shaver said that during his tenure on the board, the issue of including public comments in the broadcast has never been discussed. Shaver said he supports the idea of including the public comments in the broadcast.

The decision to keep or change the policy on public comments has been postponed by the station's advisory board until the June meeting.

Hugh G. Willett is a freelance contributor to the News Sentinel.