Ronald Tate was “flipping through the channels” at home when he heard an announcer on Fairfax’s Channel 10 talking about “how the Jews were in control of everything.” He deemed the show “blatantly anti-Semitic” and immediately called a reporter to complain.
“It was outrageous. You’ve got to stop things like this,” said Tate, a Springfield resident.
The program, Understanding Anti-Semitism, has been aired on Montgomery County, Fairfax and Washington, D.C., cable access television during the past several months. It covers the standard litany of anti-Semitic topics such as Holocaust denial, the Jewish lobby and Jewish hatred of Jesus.
Cable access shows are produced and presented by anyone who chooses to make a video, and stations cannot restrict their airing based upon content, said Tony Spearman-Leach, communications and development director at Montgomery County Media, which has run the program.
The one-hour video aired three times on Fairfax Channel 10 during the last week of June. It ran twice on Montgomery County Media’s Channel 19, on Dec. 31 and again on Jan. 2. It aired many times on DCTV during April.
Thanks to the First Amendment and the Cable Communications Act of 1984, the program is expected to remain on the air. Following adoption of the Cable Act of 1984, public, educational and governmental channels were created to allow public access to the airwaves, explained Dan Cohen of The Cohen Law Group, a cable, telecommunications and broadband law firm based in Pittsburgh.
A show appearing on public access “is not unlike a street corner” where people can espouse any view they choose, Cohen said. The Constitution, he said, protects these videos. Even hate speech is afforded free speech protection “as long as it remains an expressed belief,” Cohen said. American law draws the line at speech that motivates violence or includes a threat – the so-called Fighting Words Doctrine.
A public access station cannot make content-based restrictions, Cohen said. However, it can limit the number of times the video is aired or it can show it at less popular times, like very late at night.
“We are very, very sensitive, even though we are in the free speech business,” said cable executive Spearman-Leach, explaining that “unless it’s something that is so gross” like a murder scene, a program is aired as taped.
He views the role of his station as “a vehicle to freely express viewpoints.” However, he said, “that also means people in the community have to be respectful to each other.”
His station cannot pull a video that is filled with hate speech or “you can seriously run afoul of federal regulations that govern federal access stations,” he said.
His station obtains its videos when a producer or presenter contacts it to schedule a show, usually several months in advance, and then submits it. “They are aired as they are submitted,” he said.
In the case of Understanding Anti-Semitism, Reston resident Ken Meyercord was the producer and presenter. He has made numerous other shows that have aired on cable access television. Meyercord was unavailable for comment by press time.
In this program, host Meyercord expresses Holocaust denial, stating that there were only 378,000 deaths during the Holocaust and not more than 6 million. During the video, he makes a passing reference to “census records” for his added claim that the number of Jews in the world actually increased between 1938 and 1948.
Meyercord goes on to blame the high cost of food on kosher markets and states that anti-Semitism, if it exists in the world, is the fault of the Jews, who express hatred of others and hold themselves apart from the rest of society.
He makes other provocative statements, including his opinion that Jewish people control the worlds of media and entertainment. “Some would say this is evidence of a plot by the Jews to control public opinion.”
He goes to state: “Maybe Jewish success in the media is as natural as blacks’ success in the field of music and their domination of the entertainment industry as explainable as Ethiopians’ monopoly on the parking-lot business in Washington, D.C.”
After viewing the video, Josh Sztorc, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington’s Maryland government and community relations associate, said, “As a community-based organization, the JCRC supports local access television and the platform it provides for bringing unique programming into the local community. However, any attempts to explain reasoning and justification behind anti-Semitism cannot diminish the fact that anti-Semitism is a very real thing Jewish people around the world live and breathe every single day.”
“There is no justification or reasoning which can explain the countless acts of violence that stem from hatred and anti-Semitism. The JCRC will continue to fight this growing worldwide epidemic.”
David Friedman, regional director of the ADL’s D.C. office, said his office received a few calls when the video was aired in D.C. back in April. He was aware that the video could not be taken off the air despite its content, but his office wrote to the station urging that it be shown less frequently, he said. Usually when he speaks with the local access station employees, they urge him to provide shows that will counterbalance any objectionable shows, he said.
“The system bends over backwards” to make sure the public has access to television, he said.
“We are a strong champion of the First Amendment, but at the same time, a station has to be responsible,” Friedman said. The Park Police issue permits to groups that some find objectionable, he noted. However, the police have the right to restrict where the protest can be staged and what time it can take place, he said, adding, cable access stations should be doing the same.
Soon after the 9/11 terrorist attack, the ADL received several calls about particular shows the viewers considered anti-Semitic and anti-American, Friedman recalled. But, like Understanding Anti-Semitism, the videos “didn’t venture into the area of criminal threats,” he said.
These shows legally will continue to be aired, and many people watching them will be shocked, he said.