Monday, October 22, 2018


DeeDee Halleck
It is no surprise that DeeDee Halleck has a date with the United States Supreme Court. 

In many ways it is her destiny. 

Halleck has worked most her life as a film director, media activist and provocateur that promotes citizen access to American electronic media.

During its current term, the court will decide Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck [link], a case that might have major implications for public media organizations.  Halleck, and her associate, poet and playwright Jesús Papoleto Melendez, are asking the court to expand constitutional free speech protection for individuals trying gain access to channels operated by private companies and organizations.

The case turns on the definition of a “state actor” – someone who is acting on behalf of the government – who can therefore be sued for violations of the First Amendment. In layperson terminology, the before the court is:

Should an entity that promotes itself as a “public institution” that sponsors “public forums” (such as public access cable TV or “public broadcasting”) be required to provide airtime and exposure to anyone who wants it?

In addition to public media organizations, the case will determine if limitations on free speech by private operators of social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are violating First Amendment rights.

In the past, the Supreme Court has not directly ruled whether entities such as public access TV systems that operate on leased channels provided by the government, are considered public forums.

Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck made its way to the Supreme Court when the court agreed to review a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit that the private operator of a public-access television channel is a “state actor.” Manhattan Community Access Corp. appealed the 2nd Circuit’s decision and the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case before June 30, 2019.


Halleck [link] brings an extensive grassroots media background to the case, which might be why the Court gave her standing. 

Now in her late 70s, Halleck has led many media workshops with elementary school children, reform school youth, senior citizens and migrant farmers.

Her film, Mural on Our Street was nominated for an Academy Award in 1965.

She has been (and according to her resume, still is) associated with Amy Goodman and Democracy Now! She claims to have developed the program’s television version. 

Halleck was co-founder of the Deep Dish Satellite Network, the first grass roots community television network.

In New York, Halleck is perhaps best known as the founder and de facto leader of Paper Tiger Television, a collaboration that proudly says on its website [link] is a collective organization that strives to break down hierarchy. We have no executive director, no managers, [and] no bosses. 

Paper Tiger was a major player in the 1970s and 1980s Manhattan cable TV scene. It served as a promotional platform for videos produced by Halleck and other folks in her orbit. 

In what some consider the Golden Age of cable public access programming, Halleck’s productions appeared on the same cable channels as Midnight Blue, a sexually themed cable TV program created by Al Goldstein, the publisher of Screw! magazine.

Camcorder Commando Jen Lion
Paper Tiger did not produce pornography but its films were edgy and at times disturbing. 

If you are interested these types of films we recommend visiting the Paper Tiger website where many are available in the archives. Some of the best films are about media criticism [link], queer perspectives [link] and youth issues [link].

Through out the years, the central themes of Halleck’s work have remained the same: 

• Take control of media to better your life 

• Control the media narrative 

• Produce media about your own culture

Halleck’s videos are also available on Vimeo [link].


Frequent Spark News readers may recall our previous coverage of Manhattan Community Access Corp. a/k/a Manhattan Neighborhood Network a/k/a “MNN.” Earlier in 2018 [link], MNN unsuccessfully tried to take over WBAI via a public service operating agreement.

MNN promised a “miracle cure” for WBAI’s many problems. MNN’s heavy-handed approach was never taken seriously. MNN recruited WBAI employees to help with a take over WBAI and staged prefabricated public protests to make the takeover seem necessary.

Dan Coughlin

MNN produces public access programming for several New York cable operators.  

 It is almost totally subsidized by cable franchise fees that subscribers pay to their local cable company. 

MNN’s Executive Director is President and CEO is Dan Coughlin, a former Executive Director of the Pacifica Foundation.

Coughlin was hired at MNN in 2006.  According to 2015 IRS information, he was paid around $400,000 in salary and benefits that year.


According to a recent article in The Economist [link], the dispute began in December 2011 when Halleck was locked out of a MNN board meeting.

In early 2012, Halleck and her friend, Jesús Papoleto Melendez, attended a MNN board meeting and began videotaping the session. A MNN employed publically called Halleck a “traitor” and the two people exchanged heated words.

Then, in July 2012, Halleck and Mendendez tried to attend another MNN board meeting but were not allowed in the meeting room. Halleck then began recording a videotape of Mendendez buttonholing attendees and complaining about being barred from the meeting.

Halleck edited the tape into a 25-minute film called The One Percent Visits El Barrio. It aired several months later on one of MNN’s cable channels.

MNN’s management became aware that Halleck’s film had been aired.  She was notified in writing that her film would never, ever be seen again on MNN. Hallack was suspended from MNN for a year and Melendez was banned for life.

Halleck and Melendez then filed suit.

KEN SAYS: Look for the Supreme Court to overturn the lower court’s ruling. However, if the court does let the lower count’s ruling stand, any business or organization that holds a “public forum” will be potentially be affected.

UPDATE 10-29-18 6pm CT
Comment from DeeDee Halleck:

MNN has a contract with the city to provide a way for "Manhattan residents to exercise our First Amendment Rights." That is their mission and also is stated in the "policies' section of their handbook which is also on their web site. New York State public access meetings are open to the public according to the New York State Open Meetings law.

We were very happy with the decision of Judge Newman of the US Second Circuit, who said that public access is a public forum. By appealing that ruling, Dan Coughlin and the MNN lawyers are jeopardizing the entire community of hundreds of public, government and education channels throughout the United States and his own $9,000,000 yearly budget.  --- DeeDee Halleck

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