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Court allows public access host's claim under cable act

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CONNECTICUT--A federal appellate court in New York City (2nd Cir.) found in mid-July that a private party can seek relief…

CONNECTICUT–A federal appellate court in New York City (2nd Cir.) found in mid-July that a private party can seek relief under the cable act in federal court and ordered the District Court in Hartford, Conn., to reconsider Jerry McClellan’s claim that Cablevision of Connecticut improperly banned his talk show from its public access channel.

The ruling overturned the district court judge’s holding that the Cable Communications Policy Act does not provide a private cause of action for McClellan’s claims that Cablevision violated his rights by censoring his show.

The complaint is the result of Cablevision’s actions following an August 1996 episode of McClellan’s talk show in which the host played the party game “Twister” with a mostly naked female stripper. Cablevision, which carries the show on its public access stations, said that the show contained sexually explicit material and, after numerous complaints from viewers, informed McClellan his show would no longer be carried on the public access channel and denied him use of the company’s public access studio.

McClellan and two men who said they were viewers of his show filed a complaint in federal court claiming the cable company had violated the Cable Communications Policy Act and the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, which prohibit cable operators from exercising any editorial control over public access broadcasts except in the case of obscenity or indecency. McClellan sought injunctive relief to prevent Cablevision from banning the show, arguing that even if the specific program in question broke the rules, the cable operator could not ban his talk show completely.

The lower court suggested that the local franchising authority would be a proper forum for the complaint. But the appellate court said that the cable act was meant to protect private programmers from such interference, and noted that allowing a federal cause of action was “consistent with a legislative scheme intended to provide ‘an environment of many tongues speaking many voices.'” (McClellan v. Cablevision of Connecticut; Plaintiff’s Counsel: Louis George, Hartford)