Oct. 20 is the third-annual Community Media Day, and the next day kicks off Free Speech Week.

Curry County Voices, in partnership with KCIW Radio, has reserved the meeting hall in the learning center at the Curry Public Library in Gold Beach to encourage residents of Curry County to take advantage of an open mic to celebrate both.

The stated goal of the event is to have an annual celebration of voices that bring awareness to the importance of free speech, and accessible media for all individuals to have their voices heard.

Curry County Voices did not exist on Oct. 20, 2017, and while it existed on Oct. 20, 2018, it was prohibited by the terms of its revocable permit from the county from allowing free speech.

The county made it clear we were not being granted the right to put onto Channel 182, its PEG channel, any “public” programming that would in their minds expose them to First Amendment claims to allow any member of the public to engage in free speech on the channel.

Cable companies have been required by federal law for years to make cable channels available to the licensing municipality or county for public, educational and governmental programs produced locally. Most franchisors simply turn over the running of the channels completely to community-based nonprofit organizations that establish media centers available to the public.

There are 3,000 such PEG access organizations and community media centers in the United States. Many of them are members of the Alliance for Community Media, which promotes civic engagement through community media throughout the country.

Initially, Curry County recognized that Curry County Voices could place on Channel 182, as “governmental programming,” candidate forums and townhalls of elected officials. Then, Sen. Jeff Merkley made comments about President Trump that some found offensive, and when I refused the requests of two commissioners to edit the tape of that townhall, they shortly after voted to terminate Curry County Voices’ access to Channel 182.

Although the Supreme Court ruled in June that programming by organizations such as Curry County Voices, even if on a channel owned by a government body, is not subject to the First Amendment, we founded Curry County Voices to provide all in Curry County a soapbox with which to exercise their right of free speech.

On Oct. 20, the doors at the learning center will open at 12:30 p.m. Anyone wishing to speak can put their name in a hat. Starting at 1:00 p.m., names will be drawn at random. Speakers will have three or four minutes, after which members of the audience will be given an opportunity to comment, in support or in opposition, to the speaker's presentation. These times will be set based on the number of names in the hat and the number of audience members wishing to comment.

The rules will be quite simple. We ask that speakers and members of the audience all respect each other's right to free speech, and that all refrain from profanity, defamation and personal attacks not relevant to the topic being discussed.

As a longtime, card-carrying member of the ACLU, I recognize that even “hate speech” falling short of a threat of violence is protected by the First Amendment. Still, we ask that all select their words carefully and with regard to their impact on others.

Carl King is president of the Gold Beach Rotary Foundation, which produces and publishes on its website and YouTube community media under the name Curry County Voices.

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