UPTV rule changes bring new programs

By Dan Farnham

The Urbana Public Television Commission (UPTV) unanimously approved two rule changes to the UPTV Public Access Policies and Procedures, Monday that will allow a New York-based independent news and analysis program to be broadcasted on the station.

Over 1,000 community members signed a petition to have “Democracy Now!” broadcast on the public access station, said Champaign resident Randall Cotton. The crowd at the noon meeting was filled with supporters of the program who applauded when the commission passed the rule changes suggested by the community members.

Cotton said he has been trying to get the program on air for five months but the city of Urbana, including mayor Tod Satterthwaite, has been resisting his efforts, most recently at a UPTV Commission meeting on July 13.

Satterthwaite said he was not trying to block the program based on content, but because the program did not follow UPTV policy.

Under former rules, all public access program submissions needed to be in SVHS, VHS or U-MATIC format. While “Democracy Now!” couldn’t be aired under the former rules because it would need to be broadcast as a satellite feed, the new rule fixes that problem by allowing programs to be submitted in DVD, satellite or live format.

The second rule change approved at Monday’s meeting added the term “series” to the type of programming that individuals can propose for UPTV broadcasting. This change allows regularly broadcast shows like “Democracy Now!” to run.

The rule changes are still pending approval by the city administration. If approved, commission members said they see no reason why the program could not be broadcast.

Local community radio station WEFT already broadcasts the show every weekday at 4 p.m.

Cotton said the commission has been more receptive to his concerns but that the city administration is still trying to use scare tactics, weak arguments and overt pressure to influence the commission.

Program supporters say Satterthwaite has been aggressively opposing initiatives to broadcast the show, including attending a July 12 UPTV commission meeting, although he normally does not attend such meetings.

Cotton said Satterthwaite’s arguments were shaky and that he seemed to be opposing the program, just to oppose it.

Satterthwaite said he never had a problem with broadcasting the program but believes the rule changes set a larger precedent that should be publicly discussed.

By allowing the satellite feed, UPTV becomes open to syndicated programming as well as local programming and Satterthwaite said he questions whether that is the purpose of the station.

Cotton argues the petition’s signatures prove that there has already been public discussion and keeping the program off the air would be censorship.

Satterthwaite also said he attended the July 12 meeting in order to guide the commission because he was concerned whether members fully understood the difference between policy and programming issues.

Cotton also criticized City Attorney Steve Holz for pressuring UPTV Commission Chair Barb Gladney into removing an agenda item for Monday’s meeting that would have directly addressed the program.

Holz spoke at the meeting, outlining the legal aspects of the issue and reminding the commission members that they have no authority to make programming decisions. Cotton called the speech “long-winded” and a “stall for time” that was impeding progress on the issue.

The UPTV Commission will hold another meeting next Monday to discuss items they were not able to address at Monday’s meeting. Cotton said the meeting will be the big test to see whether the city administration actually approves the rule changes.