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Help End Drug War Through Local-Access Cable

The following is a write-up from Clifford Schaffer (co-author of the Hoover Resolution, for those of you who are new to the mailing list) on a series of videos about the Drug War which were made to be aired on local-access cable-television stations. These videos, the "Drug War News", are available at cost (about $7 including postage) from their producer, John Humphrey. Cliff includes instructions on how to go about getting these on the air, which is quite easy to do. If you're interested in this project, there are three ways in which you can get involved:

1) Order copies of the videos, and get them played on local-access cable stations in your area. You can contact John Humphrey at the telephone number or email address listed below. Please also send email to me ([email protected]) and let me know of your activities in this area - it will help me determine the effectiveness of this email project.

2) If you wish to team up with others in your area to split costs and/or legwork, send your name, address, telephone number, and email address if you have one to me ([email protected] or DRCNet, P.O. Box 381813, Cambridge, MA 02238-1813), and I will help you team up with others in your area if there are any.

3) Help make copies. John will eventually get copies to anyone who asks, but he's very busy making new videos for the series, and can't fill too many requests right away. You can probably do copying for free at your local cable station, after taking a three-hour or so course (info on this below). If you are willing to help in this phase of the production process, please contact me at the above listed email address or post office box, and I will put you on the help list.

Here's Cliff's write-up:


By Federal law, cable TV companies are required to provide a local access cable channel. Anyone who is interested may use this channel to show whatever they may choose without charge. The only limitations on this are that the content must not be obscene or otherwise offensive and it cannot be done for commercial or fund-raising purposes. (Although it might be done to attract people who might contribute later -- you just can't mention any sort of fund-raising on the show.) There is also a limitation with respect to the fact that there must be available time on the channel, but I have not seen a local access cable channel yet which was even close to being booked up. In the great majority of cases, the cable companies are almost begging for someone to give them something to show on these channels.

As a further point of interest, the same Federal law for cable companies requires them to provide formal studio production facilities FREE to anyone in their community who wants them. Just call your local cable company and ask. They will usually require you to attend a three-hour (or so) orientation, which may have a nominal charge associated with it, but nothing big. After that, you may use their professional facilities to film and produce your own television shows, for FREE.

The process of airing a show, or a series of shows, is quite simple.

First, call your cable company and ask for the person who handles the local access cable channel. Explain to them that you want to air a series of shows on the channel and you would like to arrange a regular, weekly time (preferably during evening prime time hours when more people will be watching) for the show. In all probability, the person will have been looking for stuff to air and will be glad you called. They will ask you the following questions:

1) Is it a commercial or fund-raising show? (No, it is not)

2) Is the content appropriate for broadcast television? (Yes, its all clean with no bad language or anything)

3) What format is it available in? (It is available in either three-quarter inch tape cassettes or half-inch -- VHS -- cassettes. Most stations will want the three-quarter inch tapes if they are available. VHS -- half-inch --, however, is cheaper to reproduce and ship so it is better for you if you can manage it.)

4) Are the shows recorded one per tape, with a minute of black lead-in before the show? (Yes, they are prepared in the standard format requested by most cable companies.)

5) How long are the shows? (They are standard television half-hour shows -- really about 28.5 minutes each.)

You will want to know the number of subscribers the cable company has so we can judge how many people are seeing the message, and whether there is a regular time-slot available for a series during decent viewing hours.

Next, call John Humphrey, the producer of the Drug War News at (213) 662-3510 (or email to [email protected]), and talk to him about getting copies of the tapes. I don't want to speak for John but, in general, he will provide copies of the tapes for anyone who is willing to pay the costs. The costs are (roughly) for three-quarter inch tape, about $5.00 per tape, plus about $2.00 shipping. For a total series of thirteen shows, that works out to around $91.00 (give or take). For VHS tapes, the cost is less -- about $2.00 per tape, plus shipping. John plans for an entire series of thirteen tapes and, so far, has probably eight or ten.

Please remember that John is not a professional producer, he is just an average citizen like you and me so he is doing all of the copying of tapes himself in his own spare time. If there is a large enough demand he will, of course, have to resort to a copying service which will raise the costs a little. This is an all-volunteer effort. There are a lot of people out there who are putting a lot of their own time and money in it just because they believe in the cause. If we are going to win, we will need you to volunteer and help out, too.

The shows currently include (among others):

Me explaining the reasons why we should consider a new drug policy.

Two shows where I explain how to argue the case for reform to others.

A show with an attorney about the laws on civil forfeiture.

A show which includes Hemp for Victory - the US Government film from 1942 encouraging farmers to grow marijuana because it was so vital to the war effort. This one is a real eye-opener for the average citizen. Even the most hard-core anti-druggees will watch this one intently.

A show with a Federal Judge regarding the injustices of mandatory minimums. John also has some real interesting plans for other shows, including interviews with people who were sentenced to mandatory minimums for really trivial offenses.

These shows have been playing on local access in the LA area and we have had some pretty good results. I have run into a few people who recognized me from the shows, and John Humphrey has had a number of calls from people who expressed interest in the show, and doing something on their own to help out. They dont get the same ratings as 60 Minutes, but they are reaching people -- some of whom might not be reached any other way. Local access is a tool which we can all make use of at very low cost. Even if you cant set up debates, or demonstrations, or other news events, you can still get the word out to anyone with a television over local access.

All it takes from you is: A small financial commitment for the tapes About one hour to arrange the time to tape The commitment to call your friends and tell them about the show -- and to call their friends.

If you really want to be a rabble-rouser, try something like having little flyers printed up which announce the time and channel of the show which will include Hemp for Victory. It would not need to include much, just the title in big letters, the date, time, and channel and some message like Watch it! It is a fascinating film!. You could have four or five fliers cut from a single piece of paper, and then put the fliers on car windshields, post them around on bulletin boards, or whatever, to get the word out. Do enough of it and you will even produce a little news event for your local paper, which will further increase the number of viewers. This is a great way to spread the word and I hope you will all seriously consider this for your own community.

C. A. Schaffer

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