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City: Revised WRAC rules protect freedom of speech

WILLMAR -- Revised rules and procedures governing Willmar Regional Access Channels actually protect First Amendment free speech rights rather than violate those rights, the City Council was told this week.

WILLMAR - Revised rules and procedures governing Willmar Regional Access Channels actually protect First Amendment free speech rights rather than violate those rights, the City Council was told this week.
“If a program is submitted, we have to air it,’’ said Rudy Vigil, WRAC coordinator, who along with Ross Smeby, city information technology coordinator, discussed the revisions. The council approved the revisions Monday night.
Smeby said the typical violations are mainly libel, slander and violation of copyright.
Vigil said free speech rights also have consequences “if you do say something that you shouldn’t say. So we need to make sure that they have free speech because it will air at least one time and can air more if no one can complain about a specific matter related to what is going on here.’’
Smeby and Vigil were responding to a statement made by Willmar resident Bob Skor who was wondering about violation of First Amendment rights.
Skor was the producer of a weekly commentary that the city suspended for 180 days through Jan. 16, 2016, for what the city’s cable attorney Brian Grogan of Minneapolis said were likely violations of WRAC rules and procedures for using the facilities, services, equipment and channels. Jason Dougherty, another producer, was also suspended.
Vigil said WRAC must first receive a specific complaint about a program. Vigil said WRAC does not edit submitted programs.
“It’s not up to us to police it. The complaint needs to be specific and it has to come to us,’’ Vigil said.
Smeby said the revisions were recommended by Grogan and approved by the Cable Advisory Committee. The former rules and procedures were written 15 years ago, and the revisions incorporate Federal Communications Commission rules. Vigil and Smeby said they wanted the policy and procedures to be current when current cable franchises expire next year.
“We changed some of the guidelines and the policies to reword things,’’ Vigil said. “ … The current one was written quite a long time ago, so the changes are minor. But through the information that we got through a couple of issues that we’ve had with the policy, we’ve added more clarification to certain things that are going to possibly happen through the recommendation of the advisory committee.’’
Vigil said he and Smeby wanted the council to know that WRAC is doing everything it can to protect the city and users.
“We’re going to continue to put out quality programming,’’ he said. “The first (WRAC) equipment purchased was in 1986, so next year will be 30 years. For every issue that we’ve had lately, there’s thousands more of good things that are happening. Access centers deal with this all the time.’’
In related business, the council approved a revised agreement with the Minneapolis law firm of Moss & Barnett, in which Grogan is an attorney, to negotiate the next cable franchise with Charter in 2016.
The council tabled the agreement last month for clarification on whether the law firm’s representation of cable provider Windstream posed a conflict of interest in franchise negotiations between the city and Windstream.
In a July 22 email to Smeby, Grogan said he will represent the city of Willmar and not Windstream in matters before the city involving the Windstream cable franchise.

Related Topics: WILLMAR CITY COUNCIL
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