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I have said that public broadcasting is unique. It concentrates on reaching a special type of audience. It is free of the competitive pressures that are part of commercial broadcasting. Our survival is not based on mass audience ratings. Because we do not aim at the largest possible audience, public broadcasting has been able to reach many special audiences that otherwise would not be served. We believe we have been able to provide considerable leadership in coverage of public affairs events, and we want to improve our record. Our track record includes a major concentration on public affairs coverage by both television and radio.
Let me now refer to public television and its role in this area—what is our experience and what have we accomplished.
In this electronic age, television is the dominant information source. Statistics tell us that in excess of 25 million persons a week watch public television. Our most successful public affairs program to date was the prime-time coverage of the Watergate hearings. Public television's Watergate telecasts contributed an estimated 400 million home-hours of viewing to the total nationwide audience.
The Watergate coverage on both radio and television brought a sharpened public awareness of public broadcasting and its vast potential for the future.
National Public Radio has also pioneered in this area from its first day of operation in April 1971. Since that time, NPR has provided its 163 member stations with nearly 600 hours of live, unedited coverage of congressional hearings.
The radio medium is uniquely well suited to provide ongoing indepth coverage of the “congressional process.” No other means of communication can provide the flexibility, air time, or immediacy of live radio on a continuous, day-to-day basis at a realistic cost and without significant interruption to the normal flow of other program services. The number of radio stations operating today is sufficient to offer the listener a wide range of choices including, in many areas of the country, stations that specialize in so-called "all talk” programing with a heavy emphasis on current affairs. It is this kind of specialization that makes radio ideally suited for extensive coverage of any subject.
I might point out that these hearings are being transmitted nationwide today by a team of two people from National Public Radio. As you can see, there is virtually nothing to interrupt or potentially distort the content or purpose of these proceedings. Live, gavel-to-gavel coverage of any congressional proceeding could be carried to every interested citizen in the United States in this same manner.
Beyond these advantages which are inherent in the radio medium itself, there are additional opportunities provided by the existence of the public radio system. Most important is the fact that public radio has the capacity, the time, and the interest to devote significant attention to governmental proceedings.
I believe it is apparent, however, that this kind of ongoing, comprehensive coverage through both the public radio and television systems can provide the listener and viewer not only with a better understanding of the issues currently of concern to Members of the Congress, but also—and perhaps more importantly—a much better understanding of
how the Congress, or any governmental body in America, functions on a day-to-day basis.
You will be provided additional details by the presidents of PBS, APRS, and NPR when they testify before this committee next month.
The real issue before the committee is the question of access-access to your committee deliberations and floor debates. Without this greatly expanded access, concerns over the technical and physical arrangements are meaningless. As public broadcasters, we are anxious to cooperate with Congress and the networks in providing the technical expertise for physical arrangements and coverage of events.
A study on the technical aspects of this activity will be presented in later testimony by the president of PBS.
I would like now to talk about some further experience public television has had at the State level.
Connecticut Public Television (CPTV) has covered the Connecticut General Assembly since 1964. A favorable assessment of that coverage was contained in your special report prepared by the Library of Congress.
In Florida, public television coverage is used extensively throughout the State. Coverage ranges from school board meetings to community relations meetings to coverage on legislative hearings on State affairs.
Connecticut and Florida are prime examples of outstanding public television coverage of local and State governments. Representatives from both of these areas will speak further on this subject during future hearings of the committee.
After coverage of the Florida Legislature had begun, CPB provided a research grant to Florida State University to determine the effectiveness of the Florida series, “Today in the Legislature.”
The study is ongoing, but preliminary findings indicate that approximately 10 percent of the homes reached by the 7 Florida public TV stations watched some portion of the programs during the legislature's session.
May I add, Mr. Chairman, I believe 10 percent coverage is an extremely high number for our kind of coverage of a legislature.
After watching the series, a significant finding revealed : “Viewers were less likely to feel alienated from government, more likely to feel voting played an important part in public affairs."
The Florida study also examined uses of video tapes of the coverage in secondary civic classes. The study noted that those who watched the program for 5 weeks gained a greater understanding of the current legislative activity and the legislative process.
Although I have only touched upon two examples of outstanding public television coverage of government bodies, there are many local stations engaging in similar coverage with enthusiastic support from their audiences.
We urge that Congress look favorably upon the practice of providing more on-the-record, full disclosures of its deliberations. Radio and television access should cover every area, from committee hearingsto committee markup sessions to floor debates. I am convinced that the technical questions can be solved—but only after you decide to permit more extensive coverage.
If the Congress agrees to greater access, we would urge that you recommend that it also provide the necessary facilities to make that kind of coverage possible. • What we must do is create every possible incentive for the American people to become interested in the workings of their government.
If the Congress agrees to live coverage of committee hearings, floor debates, et cetera, I want to go on record as recommending a system similar to the one presently in use at the United Nations. A subscription service modeled on the U.N. system would result in the greatest flexibility for broadcasters by providing a television and radio feed as well as recording all floor proceedings and committee hearings on video and audio tape. Subscribers to the service would be allowed to select whatever segments they chose. An additional benefit for public broadcasters under the subscription system would be the elimination of uncertainty about the cost of special events coverage. We know from the Watergate experience that coverage of only selected hearings or events can be very costly. This matter will be discussed with you in more depth by other representatives of public broadcasting.
It is my understanding that there may be testimony from representatives of the United Nations at a later session, and I am sure they will note the fact that some of the old arguments against live television coverage of floor debates, committee hearings, et cetera, do not necessarily hold true today. Experience has shown that the obtrusiveness factor has been greatly reduced by modern technological advances that allow effective coverage without disruption.
Whatever Congress provides and whatever cooperation we lend, the networks and public broadcasting should and must retain full control of programing, including the right to decide what hearings or debates would be covered and when they would be scheduled for viewing.
Public broadcasting is based on the proposition that a democratic society can create, through a combination of private and government support, a vital national resource that is free. Without freedom from interference and control, it can have no vitality nor can it command confidence.
We could provide full coverage, whether the event was a committee hearing or a full floor debate. But broadcasters also need constant access to congressional materials so that they are able to provide specials or documentaries on important issues.
As this process develops and you have an opportunity to see and experience the results of this increased coverage, we might want to go further and offer, in addition, a regularly scheduled national program on the model of “The Advocates” series where, within a debate forum, a pubic issue of current importance could be thoroughly discussed by Members of Congress.
The subject would be chosen by the broadcasters with Congress selecting two participants to discuss the pros and cons of an issue. This format could then be extended to provide Members of Congress the opportunity to express their views on the issue in 5-minute programs at the local level if the stations and the Members so chose. This notion for additional coverage, as a means of providing the Congress with improved access to the media and the American people with an opportunity to better understand the issues, is only my personal view and, of course, would have to be worked out with many others in the public broadcasting community.
Such a format, coupled with other specials or documentaries in addition to gavel-to-ga vel coverage, could provide the kind of improved and increased information flow you desire—and many Americans very much want.
This kind of exposure can only lead to better informed citizens who will ultimately take a greater interest in their leadership and their governmental processes because they understand them.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman, there is an aspect that has not been covered today, and it is the use of materials from the Congress in schools, both in current events, and also in regular civics classes. It is necessary that we have up-to-date valid raw material to make the instructions meaningful to the students.
Chairman METCALF. This is the point we tried to make yesterday, when we said many of the hearings of the committees are educational.
It is not a matter of the Congress putting out special educational materials. It is the fact that academic and other experts testify and the hearing records are almost textbooks in some areas.
Mr. LOOMIS. Of course, as you realize, Mr. Chairman, many of the public television stations are licensed or owned by educational institutions, so that gives them immediate and normal access to the instruction going on in their parent institutions.
I think one of the problems brought out in your own committee study was that most people do not even know their Congressman. Needless to say, they do not know his views and not many know who their Senator is.
A format such as outlined in my statement would allow a balanced presentation of the issues, with the pros and cons, in "The Advocates" format. Then, because of the diversity of public television and public radio, you could package statements by the two Senators and Representatives from the area that is covered by the television station. In that way the television station in Montana, if there were one, which as you know there is not, would have the ability to hear the Senators and Representatives of just Montana, say, "I am for the bill for the following reasons.”
After the audience had heard the debate, the audience would know whether they agreed or disagreed with their Senators and Representatives. It would be an expensive, difficult, time-consuming thing to do, but in my personal view, it would be a unique service which is now not available in any form.
That is all I have to say, Mr. Chairman.
I should comment on some of the problems and time pressures we have. We lost House Members of the committee because immediately after you started there was a quorum call. Mr. Cleveland, Mr. Brooks, Mr. Giaimo, and Mr. Dellenback have all been here, all participating, but they had to leave.
Now, the Senate is in session, too, and if we had gavel-to-gavel broadcast coverage, somebody in Montana might say, "Well, Senator Mansfield, the majority leader is on the floor, but where is our junior Senator ?" But I do not see that this is an insurmountable obstacle.
I think that skilled and able commentators could continue to explain and bring home to the people the diversity of jobs that we do have in the Congress, and the necessity of our being in committee or performing other duties while the Senate or House is in session.
Did all of your stations carry the Watergate hearings? Mr. LOOMIS. At one time or another, virtually all public stations carried the Watergate hearings. I do not have the exact figures.
Chairman METCALF. They have the option to either carry them or not?
Mr. LOOMIS. That is correct.
Chairman METCALF. Now, this hearing is being broadcast by National Public Radio and I think that, as you have demonstrated, radio is a tremendous facility for coverage of congressional hearings, especially.
Are all of the stations carrying this broadcast ? Mr. LOOMIS. It is made available to them, and they may carry it if they choose, or they may tape it and use it at a later date or use portions.
Chairman METCALF. Or use portions? And they have an opportunity to use it and to broadcast those hearings?
Mr. Loomis. I think one thing that has not been mentioned today, would be the effect of cable television on this whole process.
Then you could have great diversity.
Chairman METCALF. I was in Detroit about a year ago, where the United Auto Workers sponsor cable television. The channels and the diversity that are available there as a result of cable television are tremendous.
They have a channel for union meetings, and a channel for announcement of Boy Scout activities, and a channel for meetings of municipal government, and a channel for public television. All of these seem to me to open up a tremendous opportunity that might be a help if we opened up additional aspects of congressional operations.
Mr. LOOMIs. I would think, Mr. Chairman, it would very much be of help, because public television and radio, unlike the commercial networks, are aiming not at a single homogenous audience.
We are aiming at a series of specialized audiences—those few that happen to like a symphony, or those few that happen to like chess, or those few who may be particularly interested, not particularly in public affairs, but let us say in land fisheries or something to do with mining—whatever specialty you like. You will attract that audience which is particularly interested in the Congress, and because they are interested in the subject matter, they will be getting what is happening on the subject in the executive branch, what OMB is slashing its budget for, and so forth. At the same time they will be given the deliberations of the Congress, and if appropriate the rulings of the courts on the issue. You have captured their attention because of their interest or concern with an issue, but the byproduct is that they understand the governmental process that makes the determination of how that issue will be dealt with.
Chairman METCALF. How are we going to inform the people that their television or radio station is going to carry this very specialized program on such and such a day?