Television policy controversy continues

Restrictions on cable media troubles local professionals

MARYLAND — School officials at Blair High School who pulled a controversial student-produced television show more than two years ago are still in the process of developing broadcast regulations and guidelines.

Officials moved to postpone a discussion on proposed broadcast rules for the high school following a school board meeting in September, and there has been no further action since, said Bob Becker, a media attorney representing the Washington Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, which has been following the case.

The decision to create a policy was in reaction to the controversy surrounding the 1996 broadcast of a student-produced program that delved into the topic of homosexual marriages.

The program was part of a regular series entitled “Shades of Grey,” a panel discussion show produced and hosted by students at Blair High School, that aired on the county cable system’s education channels.

Becker said school board members had trouble reaching a consensus on some of the guidelines proposed by the district during the September meeting. He said those opposed to the proposed guidelines still have two major concerns: the degree to which members of the central school administration, such as the superintendent, have control over television content, and the need for television content standards.

Under the proposal, failure to comply with content standards would mean a program would be “unacceptable for cablecasting.” Programs would not be in compliance with the standards if their content was, among other things, “disrespectful,” “verbally abusive,” or “insensitive to others.”

Opponents of the standards argued the terms should be deleted from the regulations because broadcasts that meet school curriculum requirements should be allowed to air.

“We’re not saying that Channel 60 is a public forum – [but] it is less under the control of the school system because it’s broadcasting to the general community,” Becker said.

School officials argue the school’s county-wide channels, 52 and 60, should be under more control because the school should be presented well in the larger community.

Under the current and proposed system, Becker said school administrators have too much control over student-produced shows, and that the control of what is aired should initially start with students and the adviser – not an administrator.

He noted that print publications at the school, such as the student newspaper, are not subject to the same restrictions that the proposed regulations would apply to student television programs.

“Why does there have to be one standard for broadcast and one standard for publications?” Becker asked.

While no formal activity was taken at the meeting, Becker said recent elections have changed the face of the school board – which, he believes, may have an effect on what happens with the regulations.

reports, Winter 1998-99