'Hey, Didn't I See You on TV?' (Public Access Cable Television)

By Renstrom, Mary | State Legislatures, June 1993 | Go to article overview
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'Hey, Didn't I See You on TV?' (Public Access Cable Television)


Renstrom, Mary, State Legislatures


Want to reach your constituents your own way? Get on public access TV.

Frustrated by the sound-bite superficiality of modern political discourse, a handful of state legislators control their own communications, bypass the media and broadcast directly into the coziness of their constituents' living rooms. They do it by using public access cable television, offered when municipalities force cable companies to set aside publicly accessible cable channels as a franchise condition.

Anything goes on public access cable television, including a legislator hosting a talk show. Only minimal rules govern those broadcasts in Oregon, says Michael Kesten, House Democratic media director for the Legislative Assembly. Rule one: You can't solicit money. Rule two: You can't take off your clothes.

Rosa Leonardi, community development director for Salem's Community Cable TV (CCTV) adds just two others: You can't violate a copyright, and you can't defame anyone. Public access is a "forum for the people's electronic First Amendment rights," says Leonardi. The station does not initiate any programming, but simply airs whatever independent amateur producers develop. Nor do public access channels restrict the amount, type or content of political programming.

Now, legislators form districts in Oregon and elsewhere in the United States with public access cable TV can have unedited, unmediated air-time. Nowhere but in America do politicians have such easy access to the pre-eminent political tool of this century--television.

State legislators in Connecticut, Iowa and Oregon have taken advantage of the free air time offered by public access cable channels. Senator Al Sturgeon of Sioux City, Iowa, co-hosted a talk show for several years with a professor of political science. In Connecticut, former Senate Majority Leader Con O'Leary hosted a 30-minute, live call-in show each month. In Oregon, seven legislators broadcast monthly programs on public access cable in their home districts. Senator Bill Kennemer and Representatives Gail Shibley, Peter Courtney, Nancy Person, Dave McTeague, Beverly Stein and Kevin Mannix star in their own public affairs shows.

Because most shows are taped at public access cable studios, the lighting and camera work are less than professional. To improve production quality, Kesten inexpensively produces the Oregon Democratic programs at a small studio in Salem called Allied Video Productions. To produce his shows, Oregon Senator Kennemer uses the studio of a local cable TV company. Once taped, the programs are distributed to public access channels in the legislators' home districts.

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