83.9 F
Charlotte Amalie
Monday, May 16, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesPANEL LOOKS AT GOVERNMENT AND PUBLIC TV ACCESS

PANEL LOOKS AT GOVERNMENT AND PUBLIC TV ACCESS

Nov. 9, 2001 – Government House isn't about to share its government-access channel on local cable television with the Legislature, but it is willing to assist the senators in getting their own channel on the St. Thomas/St. John and St. Croix cable systems, according to James O'Bryan, assistant to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull for public affairs and policy initiatives.
O'Bryan testified to that effect Friday at a meeting of the Senate Economic Development, Agriculture and Consumer Protection Committee on St. Thomas called to discuss access to V.I. communication systems. At that meeting, the committee chair, Sen. Adelbert Bryan, introduced an amendment to the existing francise agreements between the government and the two cable companies — both owned by Innovative Communication Corp. — that would require that a channel on each system provide live coverage of all Senate sessions and committee meetings.
The franchise agreements with the two systems provide for each to make one "government-access" channel available upon request of the government through the Public Services Commission, which has been done, and a second "public-access channel dedicated to public use," also at the request of the PSC. The government-access channels are administration vehicles operated by the Education Department.
"We are willing to work with the Legislature in setting up their own channel, not share ours with them," O'Bryan told the Source on Sunday.
But before that can happen, he said Friday, the government-access broadcasting systems on St. Thomas and St. Croix need to be linked, something he estimated could be done in three to four months. What's needed is "to make the systems talk to each other," he said.
Bryan insisted that the cable TV companies should provide the link-up, but Innovative Telephone president Samuel Ebbesen said the cable companies' franchise agreements do not call for them to do so. O'Bryan said a Government House attorney believes it is not up to the cable companies to do the linking.
O'Bryan urged the Legislature to appoint a liaison to work with him on getting some form of access for the lawmaking body. The Justice Department was represented at the meeting by Richard Davis, assistant attorney general.
"The problem is not as big as we make it to be. It requires common sense," Sen. Vargrave Richards said.
However, Sen. Emmett Hansen II said if the Legislature wants a channel as a public relations tool to air ribbon-cuttings and press conferences, it wouldn't help the community. But if it were to carry useful information such as when roads are closed or when power outages would happen, it would be useful.
Senate sessions and committee meetings on St. Thomas are now carried live on Innovative Cable St. Thomas/St. John Channel 57 and on Innovative Cable St. Croix Channel 59 as a community service. Proceedings on St. Croix are taped for later airing.
The Public Services Commission would have to apply for the public-access channels, a move that its attorney, Fred Watts, said would create problems. "There are issues of liability," Watts said.
J'Ada Finch-Sheen, legal counsel and vice president of Innovative Communication Corp., said the public-access channels must be available to the entire community and that those who use public-access channels to broadcast are guaranteed free speech.
"Are we as a small and isolated community prepared when card-carrying racists use the channel, or young people learn to make weapons?" she asked, speaking about problems associated with operating such channels.
Finch-Sheen also said the public-access channels specifiedi n the franchise agreements cannot serve as legislative channels. And she said that if the Legislature and Government House cannot come to an agreement on sharing the government-access channel, the Legislature can lease another channel. She said the cable companies are willing to negotiate on the price.
Andrea Martin, Innovative Cable St. Thomas/St. John general manager, said that the cable companies must make 15 percent of their channels available for lease. This means 12 channels for St. Thomas/St. John and nine for St. Croix, she said.
In other testimony, Lori Elskoe, general manager of the territory's public television station, WTJX, said that if public TV had digital capabilities, it could provide channels for the Legislature, the Education Department and adult education, in addition to its regular programming. However, she said, the government has not provided WTJX the funding requested to meet the Federal Communications Commission requirement that stations switch from analog to digital transmission.
The PSC, which oversees cable TV activities, was criticized at Friday's hearing for its frequent inability to muster a quorum. Hansen pointed out that many commission members are upper-echelon government officials whose job responsibilities keep them from attending PSC meetings. He suggested the Legislature pass a law calling for the removal of board and commission members after they miss a certain number of meetings.
Hansen asked Watts how many times the PSC couldn't meet because it didn't have a quorum. "More times than not," the attorney said.
The PSC chair, Walter Challenger, came under further fire for his failure to appear at the committee hearing. After several hours, he showed up, stating that he had not received the subpoena faxed to him by the PSC executive director, Keithley Joseph. Joseph said he had faxed the subpoena to all members.
On Tuesday, the Senate approved five new PSC members nominated by the governor. The terms of all of those who have been sitting on the commission, including Challenger, have expired. The approvals gives the commission, long hampered by lack of appointments, five of its legally mandated seven voting members.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.




Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.

STAY CONNECTED

20,771FansLike
4,713FollowersFollow

FROM FACEBOOK

Comments Box SVG iconsUsed for the like, share, comment, and reaction icons
Load more
Nov. 9, 2001 - Government House isn't about to share its government-access channel on local cable television with the Legislature, but it is willing to assist the senators in getting their own channel on the St. Thomas/St. John and St. Croix cable systems, according to James O'Bryan, assistant to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull for public affairs and policy initiatives.
O'Bryan testified to that effect Friday at a meeting of the Senate Economic Development, Agriculture and Consumer Protection Committee on St. Thomas called to discuss access to V.I. communication systems. At that meeting, the committee chair, Sen. Adelbert Bryan, introduced an amendment to the existing francise agreements between the government and the two cable companies -- both owned by Innovative Communication Corp. -- that would require that a channel on each system provide live coverage of all Senate sessions and committee meetings.
The franchise agreements with the two systems provide for each to make one "government-access" channel available upon request of the government through the Public Services Commission, which has been done, and a second "public-access channel dedicated to public use," also at the request of the PSC. The government-access channels are administration vehicles operated by the Education Department.
"We are willing to work with the Legislature in setting up their own channel, not share ours with them," O'Bryan told the Source on Sunday.
But before that can happen, he said Friday, the government-access broadcasting systems on St. Thomas and St. Croix need to be linked, something he estimated could be done in three to four months. What's needed is "to make the systems talk to each other," he said.
Bryan insisted that the cable TV companies should provide the link-up, but Innovative Telephone president Samuel Ebbesen said the cable companies' franchise agreements do not call for them to do so. O'Bryan said a Government House attorney believes it is not up to the cable companies to do the linking.
O'Bryan urged the Legislature to appoint a liaison to work with him on getting some form of access for the lawmaking body. The Justice Department was represented at the meeting by Richard Davis, assistant attorney general.
"The problem is not as big as we make it to be. It requires common sense," Sen. Vargrave Richards said.
However, Sen. Emmett Hansen II said if the Legislature wants a channel as a public relations tool to air ribbon-cuttings and press conferences, it wouldn't help the community. But if it were to carry useful information such as when roads are closed or when power outages would happen, it would be useful.
Senate sessions and committee meetings on St. Thomas are now carried live on Innovative Cable St. Thomas/St. John Channel 57 and on Innovative Cable St. Croix Channel 59 as a community service. Proceedings on St. Croix are taped for later airing.
The Public Services Commission would have to apply for the public-access channels, a move that its attorney, Fred Watts, said would create problems. "There are issues of liability," Watts said.
J'Ada Finch-Sheen, legal counsel and vice president of Innovative Communication Corp., said the public-access channels must be available to the entire community and that those who use public-access channels to broadcast are guaranteed free speech.
"Are we as a small and isolated community prepared when card-carrying racists use the channel, or young people learn to make weapons?" she asked, speaking about problems associated with operating such channels.
Finch-Sheen also said the public-access channels specifiedi n the franchise agreements cannot serve as legislative channels. And she said that if the Legislature and Government House cannot come to an agreement on sharing the government-access channel, the Legislature can lease another channel. She said the cable companies are willing to negotiate on the price.
Andrea Martin, Innovative Cable St. Thomas/St. John general manager, said that the cable companies must make 15 percent of their channels available for lease. This means 12 channels for St. Thomas/St. John and nine for St. Croix, she said.
In other testimony, Lori Elskoe, general manager of the territory's public television station, WTJX, said that if public TV had digital capabilities, it could provide channels for the Legislature, the Education Department and adult education, in addition to its regular programming. However, she said, the government has not provided WTJX the funding requested to meet the Federal Communications Commission requirement that stations switch from analog to digital transmission.
The PSC, which oversees cable TV activities, was criticized at Friday's hearing for its frequent inability to muster a quorum. Hansen pointed out that many commission members are upper-echelon government officials whose job responsibilities keep them from attending PSC meetings. He suggested the Legislature pass a law calling for the removal of board and commission members after they miss a certain number of meetings.
Hansen asked Watts how many times the PSC couldn't meet because it didn't have a quorum. "More times than not," the attorney said.
The PSC chair, Walter Challenger, came under further fire for his failure to appear at the committee hearing. After several hours, he showed up, stating that he had not received the subpoena faxed to him by the PSC executive director, Keithley Joseph. Joseph said he had faxed the subpoena to all members.
On Tuesday, the Senate approved five new PSC members nominated by the governor. The terms of all of those who have been sitting on the commission, including Challenger, have expired. The approvals gives the commission, long hampered by lack of appointments, five of its legally mandated seven voting members.