Back in January I reported on Ft. Myers, Florida resident Albert Knighten, a retired Navy air traffic controller who was arrested in December 2011 on charges of unlicensed broadcasting for running a neighborhood community radio station. Knighten got in additional hot water when he missed his arraignment hearing in order to appear on a panel about civil rights and broadcasting in Washington. And although the Florida law makes pirate broadcasting a felony punishable with up to five years in the slammer, Knighten joins a long line of unlicensed broadcasters who will do no time.
Instead the state prosecutor recommended that Knighten be placed in “diversion,” which means he will have to complete 20 hours of community service in a six month program. If he completes the program then the criminal case will be dropped.
Reading between the lines I’m guessing that the prosecutor realized that a full trial was not a particularly good use of the taxpayers’ resources. It would probably only bring more negative publicity in addition for providing a forum for Knighten to further make his case for why his neighborhood needed a station tailored to its unique community, licensed or not.
Nearly two years ago I wrote a piece explaining that “radio pirates do not go to jail in 48 states.” Frankly, I was being careful and conservative with that title, acknowledging that at the time two states–Florida and New Jersey–had laws making pirate broadcasting a felony punishable by jail time. Nevertheless, then and now I have not turned up a single report of anyone receiving jail time for a pirate arrest in either state, nor in New York which made pirate radio a misdemeanor last year. Therefore it’s safe to say that radio pirates have not gone to jail in all 50 states. It’s just a hypothetical threat in three of them.
So, it shouldn’t be surprising that Albert Knighten won’t go to jail, and is receiving only a slap on the wrist. While being arrested is certainly a hassle most of us would rather avoid, Knighten’s case hardly serves as much of a deterrent to other would-be pirates. It only demonstrates that with these state anti-pirate laws their bark is much worse than their bite.