Best bet for seeing ACLU marijuana video featuring Steves? Comcast
Local television stations have balked at airing "Marijuana: It's Time for a Conversation," produced by the American Civil Liberties Union and featuring travel writer Rick Steves.
Seattle Times health reporter
For more information
To see the video, including interviews with panelists: www.marijuanaconversation.org
On Comcast "On Demand": In the Puget Sound region: Select Channel 888, go to "Community"
and choose "Marijuana: Let's Talk"
The TV program is titled "Marijuana: It's Time for a Conversation," but it's unlikely many viewers of network stations will be talking about it.
Of the three local network stations, only one agreed to run the show, produced by the American Civil Liberties Union and hosted by travel writer Rick Steves.
KOMO-TV turned down the ACLU this week; KIRO-TV never got back to the group at all. KING-TV ran the program in March — but only at 1 in the morning.
ACLU produced the video to engage people in a serious conversation about whether marijuana laws are good and working well, or are actually harming society, said Alison Holcomb, ACLU of Washington's marijuana-education project director.
"Our frustration is that we see plenty of prime-time TV shows depicting marijuana use in a humorous light, yet when we produce a half-hour program designed to take a serious look at our marijuana laws and their impact on our communities, we can't get any airtime."
Steves, the host of a panel discussion on the video, has been an outspoken advocate of decriminalization of marijuana and will speak Aug. 16-17 at Seattle Hempfest.
Producing the program cost more than $100,000, partly for studio time at KOMO, where Steves moderated a panel of local and national experts with an attentive audience nodding approval in the background.
But the heads of the TV stations, when asked to sell airtime, weren't so receptive.
Jim Clayton, vice president and general manager at KOMO, the ABC affiliate, refused to sell time. The show, he said, promoted marijuana use.
"The last I checked, it's illegal," Clayton said. "We don't use our public airways to promote illegal things."
Monday, Clayton met with ACLU Director Kathleen Taylor and others. "They said, 'How do we generate discussion?' " Clayton recalled. "I said, 'Get it on the ballot.' "
KIRO-TV, the CBS affiliate, did not respond to requests from the ACLU.
At KING-TV, Pat Costello, vice president and station manager, said the video was a "very well-done program" that was "fairly balanced" and outlined the arguments "pretty fairly, given that it's done by a group that has an objective."
However, the show delivered "an adult message," he said. "We don't want to send the wrong message to kids that might be impressionable."
Locked into network programming slots, and not wanting to run the show during hours when children might watch, he said, left the 1 a.m. slot. In March, the show ran 11 times on KING and its affiliate, KONG, at 1 a.m. Holcomb said KING leaders told the ACLU that they were concerned about the business impact of running the show in an earlier slot, particularly about reaction from advertisers.
Holcomb said the turndown by KOMO was particularly troubling, because the ACLU had repeatedly shared the program script with KOMO officials, telling them they planned to buy time. They were not told of any concerns, she said.
Comcast, which runs the show on its "On Demand" service, has reported no complaints, Holcomb said.
But there's a big difference having to actively seek out a show and having it on a channel a viewer might stumble upon while channel-surfing, Clayton said.
"We're a federally licensed entity. People welcome us into their homes by flipping a switch. [The ACLU officials] said the thing is doing really well on Comcast On Demand. Of course it would. You say, 'Oh, I want to find out more about the marijuana I'm smoking right now.' "
Carol M. Ostrom: 206-464-2249
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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