Public Access? The Florida Channel Seems To Disagree
In this Florida fight for expanded patient access to medical cannabis, I’ve become pretty intimate with the digestive process of the state legislature. My day routinely consists of checking the Florida Senate and House websites, reading bills and their amendments, checking blogs and watching video.
Patient advocacy is something we take very seriously. In order to be an effective voice of change, you have to know your battles. Luckily, 15 years spent as a top rated radio broadcaster in my prior career taught me a thing or two about research, outreach, and effecting change.
Public media is often the most vital link to the real happenings of their government. As a newer resident, I was happy to see how governmentally transparent Florida prided itself to be. The passage of the Sunshine Law in 1995 has been largely touted as one of the greatest things to ever happen to happen in the world of public disclosure. With transparency comes accountability.
I was delighted to stumble upon The Florida Channel a few months after moving to Florida in mid-2015. Available on 46 cable systems in the state and broadcast over the air on PBS affiliates’ digital subcarrier channels, TFC provides gavel-to-gavel coverage and a comprehensive video library of committee hearings, public testimony, and the mechanics of the people’s government in actual operation.
Founded by legislative action, The Florida Channel began operations during the 1996 session, in cooperation with WFSU television. In 1997, operations were moved to the Capitol building. Their website states the operation is “funded by the Florida legislature”, but public funding details of TFC’s (or parent WFSU’s) are hard to find. The closest figure I could muster was found within an article in the Tampa Bay Times from 2011 that shows $1.8 million tax dollars appropriated for the channel and its’ productions in 2010.
While I generally don’t watch governmental access channels as a hobby, the medical cannabis fight within Florida has admittedly changed my viewing habits, as I think it has many Floridians. With a protracted fight that began nearly a decade ago, people seem to be waking up to unacceptable political realities within the state
There is little doubt that medical cannabis is the hottest issue in Florida right now. Media outlets are churning out anything they can find as fast as they can get the story written or produced. Editorial boards within many of the state’s largest papers have been openly in favor of patient access, in some cases demanding the legislature gets it together. Just Sunday, the Gainesville Sun penned a blistering indictment of the legislature, warning politicians in Tallahassee to not “defy voters’ will on marijuana.”
Someone really should tell The Florida Channel that there is an abundance of public interest in this topic, as their actions make it appear they seem not to know. Dating back to the Office of Compassionate Use traveling roadshow in February, any legislative action or public meeting on the topic of medical cannabis has been subject to feed interruptions (preempting one broadcast to cut to something of much less interest) and relegation to the “Live Stream” feeds on TFC’s website. Who would think it would be a good idea to place such topics of importance on difficult to find areas?
…unless it was done on purpose.
Today, over at Peter Schorsch’s Florida Politics blog, author Jim Rosica penned a piece about The Florida Channel changing their disclaimer for videos streamed or replayed. It seems the channel is upset some advocacy groups have hijacked some public video of public hearings and rebroadcast it to the public via social media. Via Rosica’s article:
A new disclaimer began popping up Friday under the channel’s online video feeds: “Programming produced by The Florida Channel CANNOT be used for political, campaign, advocacy or commercial purposes!”
It adds: “ANY editing, embedding or distribution without permission is strictly PROHIBITED. Direct linking to complete video files is permissible, except in the case of political campaigns.”
Gasp! The Horror! Arrest them!
The crime? Using our politician’s own words against them.
One Facebook live feed I witnessed over the weekend was a mere rebroadcast of the last committee meeting for SB406. The advocacy group who posted the status has been quite critical of certain lawmakers whom they feel are trying to obstruct the path of patient access, and have been actively exercising their first amendment right to freely advocate against their apparent circumvention of the will of the people
Ms. Switzer, in talking about the law that allows for a second degree misdemeanor for violations, explained:
“…facilities, plant, or personnel of an educational television station that is supported in whole or in part by state funds may not be used directly or indirectly for the promotion, advertisement, or advancement of a political candidate for a municipal, county, legislative, congressional, or state office.”
I can assure Ms. Switzer that medical cannabis isn’t aligned with party, a particular candidate, or elected officials. This is an issue of basic human rights for those suffering from illness.
The Florida Channel’s restriction on free, fair use of session video is completely unwarranted, patently unfair, and probably illegal. In an organization that is funded wholly by tax dollars, the tax paying public has a right to the fair use of video.
The Center For Media & Social Impact’s Best Practices for Fair Use seem to agree:
Video makers have the right to use as much of the original work as they need to in order to put it under some kind of scrutiny. Comment and critique are at the very core of the fair use doctrine as a safeguard for freedom of expression. So long as the maker analyzes, comments on, or responds to the work itself, the means may vary. Commentary may be explicit (as might be achieved, for example, by the addition of narration) or implicit (accomplished by means of recasting or recontextualizing the original). In the case of negative commentary, the fact that the critique itself may do economic damage to the market for the quoted work (as a negative review or a scathing piece of ridicule might) is irrelevant.
“Such uses are at the heart of freedom of expression and demonstrate the importance of fair use to maintain this freedom. When content that originally was offered to entertain or inform or instruct is offered up with the distinct purpose of launching an online conversation, its use has been transformed. When protected works are selectively repurposed in this way, a fundamental goal of the copyright system–to promote the republican ideal of robust social discourse–is served.”
It’s enough to keep you up at night, angry. It does me. The willful obstruction to patient access of medical cannabis in Florida is extraordinary. Stories like the apparent censoring of public content and threatening of a criminal charge to people wanting to petition their government for redress plainly piss me off.
Our voices are, however, being heard. If the powerful and “moral” conservative legislature needs to swing the cameras away to hide in the shadows like cockroaches, they’re afraid of us. ‘Bunch of damned hippies came and crashed their alcohol and sex filled legislative party of Spring 2017.
It is vital to keep up the pressure. Keep calling your representatives and Senators. Keep advocating for the patients. Keep demanding fair implementation of Amendment 2. Millions of people suffering are waiting.