HARTFORD, CT — It’s been almost a week of previously taped shows and there still is no definitive plan for the Connecticut Television Network, CT-N.
Last Friday at 5 p.m., the Connecticut Public Affairs Network (CPAN) ended its relationship with the Office of Legislative Management (OLM) based on what the nonprofit believed to be untenable budget cuts.
Since that time, OLM has asked the staff of CPAN — the nonprofit operator of CT-N for 18 years — to consider applying for what could be temporary jobs with no benefits.
On Wednesday, James Tracy, executive director of OLM, said they have not hired any of the 22 employees who were laid off to work for the network.
“None have been retained,” Tracy said.
However, “we expect to have a solution by next week,” he added.
Until that time the network will continue running on a loop of previously recorded programs.
Tracy said the contract to operate the network will be put out to bid in the Spring. He said state contracting laws wouldn’t give management enough time to get something together before the start of the new legislative session.
Dan Klau, president of the Connecticut Council on the Freedom of Information, was unhappy with the current impasse.
“Whatever solution the legislature comes up with is bound to be wholly unsatisfactory,” Klau said.
He said that for the past 18 years, “CPAN was contractually allowed — even encouraged — to exercise its independent, fair, and unbiased judgment concerning what programs to air.”
Legislative leaders have insisted on retaining the ability to train the cameras on the legislature and felt the nonprofit had gone too far afield in covering some Executive and Judicial branch events, when those two branches were not contributing to its operations.
According to the recent RFP for the new contract, CT-N actually focused most of its time on the legislature.
From July 2014 through June 2015. CT-N it spent 399 hours covering the executive branch, 38 hours covering the Judicial branch and 1,026 hours covering the legislative branch. From July 2015 through June 2016, the network covered the executive branch for 396 hours, the Judicial branch for 72 hours and the legislative branch for 846 hours.
The $1.2 million the legislature allocated for operations of the network as part of the bipartisan budget proposal would have limited coverage to about 10 hours per week. That might only be enough for two public hearings or one session of the House or the Senate per week.
While none of the cable providers who offer the network have dropped the station, there are some who speculated that 10 hours per week of new footage might not be enough for them to want to continue to carry the network.
“Legislative leadership is using the state’s fiscal situation to disguise their true intentions: censoring what state residents can see by eliminating virtually all coverage of the Executive and Judicial branches of government,” Klau said. “At the very time that citizens need to broaden their understanding of government, legislative leaders are moving in the opposite direction, clamping down on transparency and accountability.”
In a last-ditch effort to try and salvage negotiations, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy offered $400,000 in operating funds and $1 million in bonding to help install new high-definition cameras that have been sitting for two years in boxes.
A spokeswoman for Malloy said the offer of funding still stands when they come up with a plan for the network.
“Whether the legislature finds a way to offer a slimmed-down version of CT-N or the network permanently goes off the air, the big losers are state residents,” Klau said. “For 18 years, state residents have had the opportunity to follow the workings of state government, both the good and the bad. Now, the best they can hope for is a limited, highly controlled, and utterly self-serving view of legislative events.”