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FL: Public Access TV Group Sues Fla. County

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Created 10/03/2007 - 7:23am

from: MultiChannel News [1]

Public Access TV Group Sues Fla. County

Tampa Non Profit Cites First Amendment in Suit Over Funding Dispute
By Kent Gibbons -- Multichannel News, 10/1/2007 10:55:00 AM

The non-profit corporation that operates a public-access channel called Speak Up Tampa Bay is suing Florida’s Hillsborough County for cutting channel funds, saying the county used budget woes as a pretext to censor constitutionally protected speech.

Speak Up Tampa Bay Public Access Television Inc. said Monday that it filed the lawsuit in federal court (Case No. 8:07-CV-1782) against the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners and Hillsborough County.

The non-profit firm said commissioners terminated the rights of county residents to use the public-access center after Sept. 30 and cut out the $355,443 in annual funding for Tampa Bay Community Network.

The channel is currently carried by Bright House Networks, Verizon FiOS TV and Comcast in the county.

The county, in a budget passed Sept. 20, cut about $56 million in discretionary funding (from a $4 billion budget) as it implements a state law mandating property tax cuts at the city and county levels, according to local media reports.

The county maintained about $2 million in funding for a government channel, though, which Speak Up Tampa Bay in a news release called “the government playing favorites based who is speaking and what they are saying.” Another channel, an education outlet, received about $250,000 in funding,

Defenders of the public access channel – which My Fox Tampa Bay described as having “a unique mix of characters ranging from Christian ministers to a dominatrix to Tampa Bay strip club king Joe Redner” – say there have been governmental efforts over the years to cut the channel’s funds. Those efforts were led by a former commissioner, Ronda Storms, according to reports.

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