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Public Access Show Touts Zeanah Recall

THOUSAND OAKS | East Ventura County Focus

September 20, 1997|KATE FOLMAR

In the tit-for-tat world of Thousand Oaks politics, the latest war is being fought over Channel 8, the city's public access channel.

That is where the group seeking to oust embattled City Councilwoman Elois Zeanah hosted a one-hour round-table discussion pushing its recall effort, which will appear on the ballot Nov. 4. (A counter-effort seeking to recall two of Zeanah's council foes--Judy Lazar and Andy Fox--was recently dropped for lack of signatures.)

The show, which aired Thursday at 8 p.m., was a prime example of issues programming, said program participant Peter Turpel.

"The premise of the show didn't [rest] on 'Elois Zeanah should be recalled.' It [rested] on 'Here's why we're doing the recall,' " said Turpel, the spokesman for Yes! Remove Elois Zeanah. "It wasn't a beat-up-on-Elois kind of program."

Nonetheless, the program didn't sit well with Zeanah supporters. More than a dozen of them called the Thousand Oaks city offices and cable company TCI to complain. Zeanah's closest political ally called it blatant political propaganda on the taxpayers' dime.

"It was . . . just . . . repulsive," said Councilwoman Linda Parks. "It just seemed very illegal to me to spend an hour of prime-time community access time on the recall. . . . I think of it as taking from the public trough."

Turns out the program--in all its partisanship--was more than kosher. Public access is supposed to be an open forum for free speech, particularly political speech.

"The only real public access rule is: You cannot censor programs on the basis of content," said attorney Tracy Westen, who teaches communications law classes at USC and UCLA. "This is, in my view, a classic example of what should be on public access, rather than hairdresser shows."

So Parks said she and others will turn to prime-time public access with their own pro-Zeanah show.

"We'll put out the truth," she said.

Great, said Alan McDaniel, TCI's access programming manager.

"Just as anybody else could, [Zeanah supporters] can make their own show," he said. "They could make a 10-hour show if they want to. They have the right--and some would say responsibility--of doing counter-programming."

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