Put the Legislature back on TV – Waltham Daily News Tribune

[ I call this editorial to your special attention for two reasons.  First, it has always seemed to me that requirements for televised meeting coverage of federal, state and local legislative bodies ought to be a sine qua non of any democracy’s telecommunications policies.  Second, the Waltham Daily News Tribune here hits on an important point that bears remembering, especially by those currently in the thrall of ‘Web 2.0’ and all things internet-deliverable:  for some mission-critical purposes, we just “aren’t there yet.”   Across the fifty states, for the immediate future and maybe longer, you’ve got to wonder – isn’t cable really the right tool for this task? – rm ]

Put the Legislature back on TV
Editorial: Waltham Daily News Tribune (MA)

Last week history was made at the State House on Beacon Hill. In what is likely the final battle in Massachusetts’ marriage wars, the right of same-sex couples to marry was secured. You had to be there to see it, and we mean that literally.

When the issue of marriage equality first came before the Constitutional Convention three years ago, there was a full-throated debate on the floor of the House. People could watch it live, on televisions across the commonwealth, and it was a rare treat to see our elected representatives and senators expressing themselves on a matter of principle that would affect thousands of Massachusetts residents.

For a decade or two, such live coverage of government in action was routine in Massachusetts. Under a contract with WGBH, first the House, later the Senate, allowed their formal sessions to be televised gavel-to-gavel on channel 44. But the contract with WGBH expired several years ago, and legislative leaders and the PBS station couldn’t agree on a price to renew it.

WGBH continued sporadic coverage, including the 2004 gay marriage debate, but even that stopped on Jan. 1. In its place, legislative leaders chose to carry coverage of its sessions by streaming video over the Internet. That experiment has worked, but only when few people care to watch. During the Constitutional Convention Jan. 3, and again last week, the system crashed because of excessive demand.

There’s a Catch-22 for you: You can watch the legislators at work, but only if they are doing something few care to watch.

But even when the new system is working, it isn’t accessible to most people. You can’t watch streaming video if you don’t have a computer, or if you don’t have broadband Internet access, or if your computer doesn’t have the right soundcard. Someday, streaming video will provide adequate public access to government proceedings, but we aren’t there yet.

Gavel-to-gavel coverage of formal sessions wouldn’t break the veil of secrecy over legislative decision-making on Beacon Hill. The budget, that most important piece of governance, is drafted in private and the most important debates are held in a closed “caucus of the whole.” But the very least this Legislature should do is make its public sessions truly accessible to the public.

It is up to House Speaker Sal DiMasi and Senate President Therese Murray to address this problem, but it wouldn’t hurt for Gov. Deval Patrick, who campaigned on a pledge to open up government. So far, our civic engagement-minded governor has yet to engage this issue.

We don’t know what it would cost, but considering the apathy, ignorance and contempt many voters hold for their elected legislators, it would be money well-spent. When their leaders make history, Bay State voters ought to be able to watch.

[ If you liked this editorial, please click on its link, if only to register by your visit your appreciation for the topic and the Tribune’s attention to it.  Thank you. ]

Explore posts in the same categories: cable public affairs networks, democracy, televised state legislatures

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