The Connecticut General Assembly recently issued a Request for Proposals concerning the operation of CT-N — the Connecticut Television Network. As presently written, this RFP would dramatically restrict CT-N’s ability to cover Executive and Judicial Branch proceedings, which CT-N has covered for many years. Even more startling, the RFP would give the General Assembly extensive editorial control over the content of CT-N programming.
Why should the public care about the terms of a contract between the General Assembly and the vendor that operates CT-N?
CT-N is Connecticut’s version of C-SPAN, the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network that was launched in 1979 by the cable TV industry as a public service. It televises many proceedings of the federal government, as well as other public affairs programming, political events, and gavel-to-gavel coverage of Congress. It does so in an unfiltered, politically neutral manner. Like C-SPAN, CT-N has long provided similarly neutral, unbiased coverage of state government in Connecticut.
Upon learning of the new RFP, state open government advocates, including the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, immediately challenged the wisdom of making Connecticut government less transparent, and thereby undermining the public’s “right to know” what government is doing on the public’s behalf. The news media around the state also spoke out against the RFP’s draconian coverage and editorial restrictions.
The deadline for responding to the RFP was May 17, 2017. Although the bids are sealed, CCFOI is optimistic that the leaders of the four caucuses in the General Assembly have heard the concerns of the public and open government advocates. CCFOI urges the caucus leaders to instruct the Office of Legislative Management to negotiate a final contract that eliminates any coverage and editorial control restrictions.
Our state government — like the federal government — is composed of three co-equal branches, of which the General Assembly is but one. Historically, CT-N has covered all three branches. As the contracting entity, the General Assembly is entitled to require CT-N to provide gavel-to-gavel coverage of legislative proceedings. But that still leaves ample time and opportunity for CT-N to cover state agency hearings, the courts, news conferences by both political parties, and educational and university forums and lectures. Such coverage of all three branches of government is clearly in the public interest.
To reiterate, CCFOI does not suggest that coverage of the General Assembly should be diminished. But when the Legislature is not in session and when there are other important government-related events that ought to be covered, the decision to cover those events should be left to the sound and informed discretion of those who are most knowledgeable when it comes to programming. Indeed, when CT-N was founded, it was never intended to be the exclusive domain of the General Assembly. The objective was for CT-N to cover all three branches of government and for state residents to receive a wide-angle view of public policy and state government.
The new contract to operate CT-N should continue to allow the breadth of neutral, unbiased coverage of all three branches of state government for which the network is known and respected.
Dan Klau is the president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information.
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