It doesn't sound like the type of television fare that could cause much controversy: press conferences by Virginia Gov. Charles S. Robb, committee meetings of the General Assembly and call-in talk shows with local legislators.
But the refusal of Arlington's cable TV system to carry the signal from a new Fairfax County station offering such programming has upset a number of county residents and some county officials.
The programs from WNVC (Channel 56), says Del. Warren G. Stambaugh (D-Arlington), who is a frequent guest on such shows, are a "very valuable service. They carry a lot of legislative programming, and it lets people know what we're doing and that we're doing significant things outside of January and February," when the legislature isn't in session.
Until June, Stambaugh's constituents who subscribe to Arlington's Metrocable service could be assured of receiving those shows over WNVT (Channel 53). Then WNVC, a sister public TV station, went on the air from a new tower alongside the Capital Beltway and took over much of the public affairs programming that 53 had carried. Channel 53 revised its format to stress instructional TV for school children and programs for residents closer to its Fauquier County tower.
And Arlington Telecommunications Inc. (Artec), which operates the county's cable system, announced it couldn't find a place for 56 on its cable service.
The exclusion upset Daniel Ward, general manager for both 53 and 56, which are operated by a Richmond-based public TV corporation. Ward says that under Federal Communications Commission rules both channels are "must carry" stations for the Arlington cable system.
Ward said cable systems in Fairfax County, Alexandria and Reston carry 56, but Prince George's County and some other Maryland systems in the Washington also are seeking a waiver from the FCC rules.
Artec argues it already is carrying four educational TV channels, including one out of Annapolis, and asked the FCC to exempt it from carrying 56. Until the FCC acts--and county officials said that is not likely until next year--Artec is not obligated to carry 56's signal.
Artec executive vice president John D. Evans says the firm requested the waiver because it believes much of 56's programming, such as its extensive coverage of the House of Representatives, is duplicated on an existing Artec channel.
Anyway, Evans said, most Arlington residents can get 56 easily without cable.
Ward disagrees, saying 56 comes in poorly in many of Arlington's steel-reinforced high-rise apartment buildings. Having to cut off their cable systems and get 56 conventionally will discourage many viewers from turning to the station and thus keep 56 from getting much-needed viewer support in Arlington, he said.
(About 40 percent of the station's budget is contributed by the state, with the remainder coming from viewers and other sources, Ward said.)
Ward, Evans and Arlington cable administrator Ron Carlee met last week to discuss a possible resolution of the issue. One option that has been discussed is to put 56 on one of Artec's six public access channels, which are blank most of the time.
James T. Hammett, a retired Army civilian, is one of eight county residents who have written to the county's consumer protection agency to complain about Artec's refusal to carry 56. He hopes the issue will be resolved before the fall elections. "I liked it when citizens had the opportunity to call in and make comments, or ask the status of legislation," he said. "I found it very informative."
The Arlington County Board will hold a hearing Nov. 19 on Artec's plans to be acquired by a New York concern, but County Board Vice Chairman John G. Milliken and Michael Stoil of Arlington, a member of the Virginia Public Telecommunications Board, said they do not believe the hearing should be used to pressure Artec to carry 56's signal.
Neither the county nor the state can dictate programming to the cable system, they said.