PITTSFIELD -- A City Council candidate's questioning of equal-time policies on political statements could lead to a new program this fall on Pittsfield Community Television's CityLink channel.
Joseph Nichols, a former councilor who is challenging incumbent Ward 6 Councilor John Krol in the Nov. 5 election, said he made inquiries after seeing statements his opponent was running on the local cable channel.
"I asked if I could have equal access," Nichols said.
He said he was informed by CityLink Coordinator David Cachat that Federal Communications Commission equal-time rules do not apply to local nonprofit cable stations like PCTV, but that he could, in fact, run multiple political statements himself if he were to become a PCTV member.
Shows that only air on PCTV channels can continue during a campaign, and that includes Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi's show, "Mayor Bianchi Reports." That would be the case even if the mayor had an opponent on the Nov. 5 city ballot, which isn't the case.
Krol did step down from hosting his PCTV show, "Good Morning Pittsfield," for the duration of the campaign, but Cachat said that was because his show also is simultaneously broadcast on an FM radio station. That puts it under FCC rules for equal time.
Nichols said he learned from Cachat that, by joining PCTV for $15 a year, he could train to use the video equipment and produce his own show. That's what he intends to do, he said, planning a regular educational show on how municipal government works.
His co-host, he said, will be Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo, who also is a candidate in the Nov. 5 election.
Reached Friday, Cachat said the principal consideration of a public cable station is "equal access, not equal time," as would be the case under FCC rules for other stations. "I always say, the more the merrier," he added, as providing access is a goal for local cable stations.
Cachat, who has been with the station since 1999, said that over time he's developed an extensive outreach program to notify all city government candidates of options for getting their message out over PCTV. He sends each a packet explaining the options for one five-minute recorded statement -- which he said more than 90 percent of local candidates have done by PCTV staff -- and for becoming a member, undergoing some training and taping their own political statements -- as Krol has done this year.
"Programs," which include any video produced that is put into the PCTV weekly schedule, could merely be short statements by candidates, Cachat said. They also need not be recorded in the studio.
"They could become members and sign out a camcorder and tape them at home," he said. Or a candidate's own camcorder could be used to create a videotaped statement.
Shows automatically run more than once during the week they are scheduled, he said, and currently there is no restriction on how often new shows can be aired. If PCTV were overwhelmed with programming, he said, limiting access to once a week would be an option allowed under regulations governing community stations.
New political programming can't be aired within 96 hours of an election so there are no "last-minute surprises" other candidates could not dispute.
Included in the packet sent to candidates is a great deal of information on PCTV operating rules and procedures and rules to ensure fairness in political programming.
If any candidate in the November election needs further information, Cachat said they should call him at the station at 413-445-4234.
To reach Jim Therrien:
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