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Public access channel cited for censorship practices

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  1. Content Restrictions

    NMU         MAINE         Broadcasting         May 8, 2002    

Public access channel cited for censorship practices

  • A federal magistrate determined that a public access channel’s practice of reviewing shows before airtime and requiring broadcasters to secure permission to use people’s names were struck down.

A federal magistrate in Maine said a local cable television company’s public access channel violated a woman’s First Amendment rights when it yanked an episode of her program because she did not receive permission to use a person’s name mentioned during the broadcast.

The city of Biddeford’s practice of reviewing shows before they’re aired was also found to be unconstitutional, Judge David Cohen wrote in a 20-page opinion.

But Dorothy Lafortune’s claim that the Biddeford City Council acted as an illegal court and thus violated her due process rights when it took the show off the air was rejected by Cohen.

Cohen’s findings carry no legal weight and serve only as a recommendation to a federal judge who will make the final decision.

Lafortune’s show, “Maine Forum,” was banned by the city after a former city councilman accused Mayor Donna Dion and others of plotting to take property from Lafortune’s mother in a July 2001 broadcast.

Dion said initially that she kept the episode from being re-aired because she thought the councilman’s statements were defamatory. But she later said it was because one of the persons mentioned did not grant Lafortune permission to use his name.

Lafortune has been barred from participating in the cable system’s public access channel for a year, according to her attorney David Lourie.

Lourie said he hopes that a federal judge will “broaden” the magistrate’s ruling but added that “it’s common for courts to accept the magistrate’s decision.”

(Lafortune v. Biddeford; Media counsel: David Lourie) KC

© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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