A.S. Council pulls plug on SRTV

    The months-long debate over free speech and broadcast decency came to a head late last week, when angry student leaders ordered administrators to pull the plug on Student-Run Television, taking the station off the air.

    “This is the last place I wanted to be tonight,” said a visibly upset A.S. Vice President Finance Greg Murphy shortly after 10 p.m. on Nov. 3, minutes after making the call to Triton Cable operators to cut the station’s signal and after angry SRTV members confronted him outside of the station’s office.

    A.S. Commissioner of Student Services Maurice Junious — the executive whose office oversees SRTV — had asked Murphy and Commissioner of Communications Soap Chum to monitor the station on Nov. 4, after learning through media reports that John Muir College senior Steve York had planned to broadcast another pornographic video. York’s previous porn broadcasts, aired last spring and again last month, ignited a national media storm and triggered efforts by the A.S. Council to pass regulations governing SRTV content.

    The day before the plug was pulled, the A.S. Council passed legislation banning York and his “Koala TV” show. Junious had dispatched Murphy and Chum to enforce the ban, telling them in an e-mail to have violators escorted from the station by campus police.

    When the signal was cut, York was again on the screen, this time in the form of a taped interview broadcast by Earl Warren College senior Daniel Watts, the host of the political show “Perfect Vision” on Warren College Television. Though SRTV co-Manager Andrew Tess had let Murphy and Chum into the station earlier, they stepped outside shortly before Watts’ show began and found themselves locked out.

    “That’s when we knew something was up,” Chum said later.

    Murphy pounded on the door as he saw the interview come on, during which York offered commentary on the council’s ban. Later, Murphy recalled that he could not hear the video from outside of the door, making the decision to take the signal down after seeing York’s face on the screens inside.

    “It was not a scheduled show,” Murphy said to an angry crowd that was helping Watts with the show, as the two sides met outside of the station. “You guys violated the rules.”

    Several students reacted angrily.

    “Is this your guys’ doing?” Sixth College junior Michael Toillion asked Chum.

    Noncommittal, Chum simply turned away.

    “Oh, pleading the Fifth [Amendment],” Toillion said, referring to the right of criminal suspects to refrain from self-incrimination. “God forbid you’d plead the First.”

    After Watts’ crew refused to stop taping the confrontation, Murphy and Chum walked away.

    “Maurice told us that if anything goes awry, to take the necessary action,” Murphy said on his way from SRTV to his office.

    Tess said later that evening that he saw no problems with Watts’ show.

    “It was not something that was produced by Steve York,” the station co-manager said. “I do not see any violation of the bill.”

    Tess also said he thought the producers were correct to keep Murphy and Chum out, explaining that station policy placed responsibility on the SRTV member whose door code was last used to enter the facilities.

    Watts’ crewmembers, who last used the code, said they were afraid to let Murphy in, pointing to a recent physical assault that took place on station premises by a drunken viewer.

    “I think it was very appropriate to not let [Murphy] in,” Tess said.

    Later, Junious said he had specifically not given Murphy and Chum a door code because the two were not trained in the safety procedures necessary to be in the studio unsupervised.

    “Regardless of what’s going on with A.S., there are still rules that SRTV has and I wanted to respect them,” he said.

    Junious said that his e-mail asking for only prerecorded shows to be aired was also not absolute, and was more a suggestion to station management.

    Exile to Warren

    By 11 p.m., Watts and his crew had relocated to Warren College Television, where his “Perfect Vision” was scheduled to air. The move was a poignant one: Less than two years earlier, Warren administrators shut down WCT after Watts aired a video depicting the beheading of an American contractor in Iraq. On Nov. 3, Watts was using the station to air content banned from SRTV.

    At the end of the show, York also made a live guest appearance to answer questions.

    Murphy said the decision to turn off the SRTV signal was justified because Watts’ staff included people who helped air “Koala TV,” people that he said were specifically banned by last week’s legislation. In particular, he singled out Sixth College sophomore Brian Holt, who had his own SRTV show scheduled to begin at 11 p.m.

    Holt said he admitted to speaking out during the public comment period at a recent A.S. Council meeting in support of York, but denied that he had worked on York’s porn.

    “If the resolution had said me, I would have happily complied,” Holt said.

    But another person present during Watts’ show — a third-year graduate student who asked to not be identified for fear that he, as a university employee, could face retaliation — said he had helped York co-produce several of his shows. However, he said that the A.S. Council’s ban on “Koala TV” only proved that councilmembers misunderstood how SRTV functions.

    “I’m just an engineer, I do a lot of shows,” he said. “Everyone helps everyone else at the station. … The problem is, that’s the way SRTV works.”

    Crossed Wires

    At midnight, Warren sophomore Elle Maglonzo had arrived at SRTV for the start of her own show, only to find the station deserted and dark.

    “I think it’s assy — it sucks,” she said several minutes later. “I woke up to do my show and I’m here 20 minutes after it was supposed to begin. And I could be asleep.”

    Junious arrived shortly after 1 a.m., and was soon engaged in an hour-long, and at times confrontational, phone conversation with Tess.

    By 2 a.m., Maglonzo had gone home, with her show unaired and the station still off the air.

    The next afternoon, SRTV was again broadcasting, showing recorded reruns. At approximately 3 p.m., the shows were replaced with a black screen reading: “The Associated Students (A.S.) is now censoring content on SRTV.”

    But by the end of day, the station was again off the air.

    “I don’t know the specifics of what happened,” SRTV co-Manager Tiffany Rapp said, explaining that she believed the station would be off air at least until Nov. 9, the date of the next scheduled meeting of the A.S. Council.

    A note posted on SRTV’s window on Nov. 5 stated that the A.S. Council suspended the service until further notice.

    Watts said Junious decided to keep the station off because councilmembers lacked the resources to monitor the broadcasts in person and round-the-clock. Junious did not return subsequent calls seeking comment.

    Donald R. McLaughlin, an Administrative Computing and Telecommunications director whose department oversees Triton Cable, also did not respond to messages for comment.

    However, slumped in a chair in the station at approximately 3 a.m. on Nov. 4, Junious spoke freely and with regret about the controversy, blaming poorly written SRTV governing documents for the mess.

    “We’re faced with a charter that isn’t that great, and that has created problems for me, Andy [Tess] and Tiffany [Rapp],” he said.

    The emergency content regulations approved by the A.S. Council were necessary until a new charter could be written, according to Junious.

    “I guess when it comes down to it, SRTV is an A.S. service and part of the university and subject to rules,” he said. “If the university wants to pull the plug on SRTV, it’s within their legal rights.”

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