Smile Politely

Urbana City Council Listens to Opinions about Urbana Public Television

Last night — to an overflowing council chamber — Urbana City Council held a discussion to hear the opinions of the public concerning Urbana Public Television’s airing of an anti-Semitic show that many residents at the meeting deemed hate speech towards the Jewish community.

The extreme program spews hateful propaganda about the Jewish community and was provided to a local resident by an out-of-town source.

One resident called the situation “heartbreaking.” A second dubbed the proposed revisions to UPTV’s manual concerning airing public-access programs “an empty disclaimer.”

UPTV revised some of their policies and procedures including a disclaimer at the beginning and end of all public access programming that states, “the City of Urbana does not condone or endorse speech that promotes fear, hatred, prejudice or discrimination toward any group based on religion, ethnicity, race, gender or sexual orientation, Kate Gorman, Station Manager of UPTV says.

“Unless you have some action behind your words its not worth the paper it’s written on,” Romna James, a resident says.

Residents, who took to the microphone, had numerous ideas on how to deal with the situation. Some felt the program necessitated including an ordinance forbidding this type of speech on UPTV. Some called for a rule to only allow locally produced segments. And some put forward the notion that the marketplace of ideas will sort itself out through free speech.

“If you’re going to say you can’t say no to this then you can’t say no to any of that programming and we could just keep propagating this type of programming until all the airwaves are full of it,” Judy Checker, an Urbana resident says.

Not everyone opposed to the intolerant programming wanted to see a policy ending the open right to use Urbana’s public access station.

Checker says she’s against losing public access, but if it is going to survive in our country, cities have to find a way to make public access responsible. The station needs parameters.

“What I find most disturbing about this whole discussion is the suggestion that you eliminate public access programming,” Esther Patt, President of the local chapter of American Civil Liberties Union says. “Talk about giving the hate mongers power.”

Lee Melhado, Executive Director of Champaign-Urbana Jewish Federation, addressed the council, and although she was angry about the programming, she too is a fan of free speech and offered up a different solution to the discriminatory program. She advocates the elimination of third-party programming. The program in question was submitted by a local resident, but not created in Urbana.

It took more than a year to find out where the program was coming from because the titles at the beginning and the credits at the end of the show had been removed, Melhado says.

“It is interesting to me that we are here in Urbana, my home city, and we are happy to talk about how our tax money will be spent on beautifying the Boneyard Creek and entertaining public art, but it is okay to vilify the human beings who live here,” Melhado says.

The Council decided to wait and look at UPTV’s procedures at the next meeting on April 28.

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