HARTFORD, CT — The cameras of the Connecticut Television Network weren’t turned off at midnight. But the future of the network still remained unclear Wednesday as negotiations over how to run the public access channel continued.
The Connecticut Public Affairs Network (CPAN) is the nonprofit manager of CT-N, which provides video coverage of many events at the state Capitol and within the Legislative Office Building as well as at the Executive and Judicial branches of government. The coverage is also stored as a searchable archive of public policy decision making, and its contract with the state was supposed to expire at midnight.
But a last-minute counter offer from the organization was a request that the state continue its funding at current levels for at least the next 30 days as their offer is being considered by legislative leadership. As such, the cameras are expected to continue rolling while legislative leaders discuss the proposal, according to both legislative staff and officials at the network.
CPAN’s contract with the Office of Legislative Management expired last October and it has been operating on an extension that was supposed to expire midnight Tuesday.
Over the summer, the Office of Legislative Management put a new contract out to bid that would have pulled back on some coverage. CPAN was the only organization to bid on the new five-year contract.
When it responded to the bid, CPAN thought it was bidding on a $2.4 million contract, which was already a reduction from the $3.2 million budget it had been given in the past. The legislature only approved a budget of $1.2 million, and most of that money is eaten up by lease agreements on cable and other services.
Part of the problem is fiscal — the cost to run the television station with its 33 staffers, and part is mission creep — how much time the organization spends covering the Legislative Branch versus Executive and Judicial.
Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said he appreciates what CT-N does, but he thinks they need to focus more on events inside the state Capitol and less on what’s happening outside.
“Every agency is making the same types of tough decisions on what they’re going to cut back on,” Fasano said. “And that’s all we’re asking them to do.”
He said he thinks they felt the “need to cover as much as they can,” but “given the economy we’re in you’re going to have to make choices about what you’re going to cover and not cover.”
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, agreed.
She said no one wants to see a disruption in service, “but the state simply does not have the resources it once had and, like many other publicly funded operations, CT-N will have to make adjustments.”
Klarides added: “CT-N needs to refocus on the core functions it was designed to provide.”
Not all lawmakers agree the network has strayed.
“We as a state should say there’s value in having direct insight into state government,” Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, said Tuesday. “And it should be completely independent.”
She said no state government entity should have editorial control over what the network covers.
Changes to the contract already eliminated some of CT-N’s programming, such as the weekly “Capitol Report” round-up of events that ran every Friday for 12 years, and it sought to limit the scope of what the organization covers in the future.
The caucus staff said the goal of tightening the contract was to return coverage to the legislature. They have said they felt the coverage decisions have drifted over the years.
The Connecticut Public Affairs Network said its mission has always been clear:
“Provide Connecticut’s citizens with access to unbiased information about state government deliberations and public policy events through noncommercial television coverage and other relevant technologies in order to educate the public and advance the public’s understanding of political processes and the development of public policy.”
Flexer said if legislative leadership wanted to change CT-N’s focus after 18 years, then it should have debated those changes in public.
“This is the sort of thing the Legislative Management Committee is supposed to sit and debate,” Flexer said.
However, that legislative committee, which includes the leaders from all four caucuses, hasn’t met in at least five years.
One of the proposals the legislature debated was whether they should assess a small fee on cable subscribers to pay for the service. The bill made it out of committee in 2016, but never got called for a vote.
As far as options go, Fasano said he opposes allowing the network to levy a small monthly fee on cable subscribers in order to fund the service.
EDITOR’S NOTE: We reported that $1.6 million was budgeted for CT-N, but in fact the $1.6 million figure was the “revenue intercept.” The actual budgeted figure was $1.2 million, and this story has been adjusted to reflect that.