"Loudon TV panel considers public's remarks

Comments left out of meeting broadcasts prompt complaints

The debate over whether to include public comments in taped broadcasts of public meetings continued during a meeting last week of the advisory board of Loudon County Public Television.

Since 2006, LCTV-3 has followed a policy of not including for broadcast the public comments that are a part of most county commission, school board and city council meetings. The board is reviewing the policy because of citizen complaints.

"To some of us, public comments are very important," said Loudon resident Betty McAllister. "It's a public meeting."

Public television should be responsive to the public, said Loudon resident Pat Hunter.

"We're paying the bills," she said. "Loudon County Commission provides $10,000 a year in taxpayer funds to run the public television station."

Loudon resident Shirley Harrison told the board she sees it as a First Amendment issue.

LCTV-3 station manager Jim Fella denied that First Amendment rights were at issue. The First Amendment gives the public the right to speak, but it does not obligate the public television channel to air their views, he said.

Although the technical problems associated with recording long meetings have been solved by the use of a large-capacity hard drive, the station still faces challenges such as the amount of air time and the availability of personnel, he said.

According to Fella, the issue of what to broadcast and what not to broadcast also is complicated by questions such as whether some public comments could be offensive or libelous.

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.

Fella said he had spoken with representatives of the five organizations that provide funding for the station, including Loudon County Commission, the county school board, Lenoir City Council, the Lenoir City school board and the city of Loudon.

None of the organizations has a problem or concern with the policy of not including public comments, Fella said.

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