HARTFORD, CT — Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, is asking that the legislature hold meetings and a public hearing on the future of the Connecticut Television Network, but the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate Tuesday said they have no immediate plans to do so.
The Connecticut Television Network is back on the air this week after being in reruns since Nov. 3. The Office of Legislative Management said it has hired 13 former Connecticut Public Affairs Network (CPAN) employees to resume live coverage.
But there’s still questions about who will decide what events get covered because none of the producers, who determined coverage of events, were hired back.
Big decisions about what happens in the building and with the network should, according to some, be made by the legislature’s Joint Committee on Legislative Management, but that committee hasn’t met for five years.
In her letter to legislative leaders, Bye said she’s spoken with the Office of Legislative Management about some of the details of how the network will operate, “but not enough for me to feel I understood the terms.”
She said that’s why she respectfully feels it’s necessary to have a meeting to discuss it.
“Like you, I have heard from many of my constituents alarmed about the loss of access to their government,” Bye wrote. “For many residents (myself included), CT-N provides a valuable window into the happenings of state government. CT-N’s coverage of the legislature’s activities as well as coverage of Executive Branch press conferences and Supreme Court oral arguments is instrumental in making state government transparent and open to the public.”
She added: “For some residents, who are unable to visit us at the Capitol or testify at a legislative public hearing, CT-N allows them to stay connected to the proceedings that ultimately impact their lives.”
But Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, and Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, both said Tuesday they haven’t made plans, yet, to act on Bye’s request.
Fasano reiterated his position that the departure of CPAN, the nonprofit operator of CT-N for the past 18 years, is “a good spot for us to be in.”
“I’ve been contacted by four different groups that are interested in being part of a bid process,” Fasano said.
The operation of the network will be put out to bid in the spring.
Office of Legislative Management Director James Tracy has said state contracting laws don’t give them enough time to get something together before the start of the new legislative session next year.
Bye is concerned about what happens in the meantime.
Fasano criticized CT-N for “overreaching” in its coverage, stating its main job should be to cover the legislature’s hearings and votes that have a direct impact on Connecticut residents.
Looney bristled at the suggestion that the legislature is trying to curtail news coverage, though he did add he would bring up the issue with leaders.
“It has never been our intent to reduce the existing level of coverage,” Looney said. “The reality is that the current management has been leading CT-N down a path of coverage that it is most interested in [rather] than the type of public programming that was once it’s core.”
While lawmakers continually state that CT-N’s mission wasn’t to expand outside and cover such areas as the Executive and Judicial branches, documents created when the broadcasts first started in 1999 dispute that point.
Under “project definition” CT-N’s original documentation says it was the “intention of the Connecticut General Assembly to continue funding for the Connecticut Network, CT-N, which provides television coverage of the legislature and expand this coverage to include events of public interest in the Executive and Judicial Branches.”
Further, 1997 documents creating CPAN say that the primary function of the organization “is to provide unedited, non-commercial and non-partisan live or taped broadcast television and internet coverage of State of Connecticut events, including, but not limited to, Connecticut State Senate sessions, Connecticut House of Representatives sessions, oral arguments before the Connecticut Supreme Court (and other state courts), executive branch events, legislative and governmental public hearings, legislative and governmental committee meetings, legislative and executive branch press conferences.”
The network surprised many Tuesday when they decided to carry a live stream of the Supreme Court arguments and the seven-minute press conference afterward on the steps of the courthouse with the plaintiffs in the case.
Since the departure of CPAN, legislative leaders have been adamant that coverage should focus only on legislative events.