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KNXT EDITORIAL Subject: Open Legislative Committee Meetings Broadcast: May 30 and 31, 1973
You may have seen the stories last week about the attempt by five television crews to bring you the story of an important hearing by a State Senate Committee.
The hearing involved a bill authored by Senator James Whetmore to put some controls on mortgage loan brokers. The bill is under strong attack from the industry, and several television stations wanted to show you, on film, how a bill is worked over in committee.
But one Senator, Jack Schrade of San Diego, objected to the presence of cameras. They weren't even using extra lights, but he said they were disturbing the hearing. Under Senate rules, one Senator who doesn't want the public watching can close your television eyes to the legislative process. Much to our amazement, the author of the bill, Senator Whetmore and Chairman George Deukmejian of Long Beach joined Senator Schrade in voting to ban television cameras. Only Senators Dymally and Beilenson voted to let the cameras remain.
The Senators banned cameras, not pencils, but they could have done both. We don't think any legislative body should have the right to run your government behind closed doors. There are occasions when a closed meeting is necessary to discuss personnel or security matters. But now and then they close the doors for big things like budgets, where you have a right to know what's going on.
Most Senators want to do the right thing, but occasionally you find one like Senator Schrade who wants to shut the doors. The rules should be changed, because it's your Capitol, your Legislature and your Government, and everything they do there is your business.
What's an "executive session"? What does it mean? Well, in government it means that lawmakers can meet behind closed doors and develop laws which affect you and me. The actual voting is eventually done out in the open, but you have no way of knowing what part your legislator, councilman or freeholder played in developing the legislation.
This style of government, this closed door policy of executive sessions, leaves your elected representatives open to wheel and deal with any special interest group and perhaps be more responsive to their needs than he is to yours.
By using closed door executive sessions, your lawmaker may be leaving you out. And that's wrong. (Presented by Peter W. Duncan, WCAL-TV Editorial Director)
We think Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania should take a lesson from the 'sunshine state' of Florida. We're not talking about Florida's weather climate; we're talking about it's political climate. The Florida state legislature passed what is being referred to as a 'sunshine law-a law which requires that all meetings of public agencies must be open to the public-not should be or might be, but all must be open to the public.
We like that. It guarantees the right of the public and the media to attend any meeting of any public agency. It means that in Florida, sticky political issues for example cannot be hammered out in secret behind-closed-doors executive sessions. In Florida, if they're going to be hammered out, they're going to be hammered out in public.
Such laws—for mandatory open meetings do not exist in the tri-state area. Pennsylvania is wrestling with one now; but some of the elements being proposed will only open up the doors on a restricted basis. Amendment after amendment can strangle the good intentions of any bill.
We suggest that lawmakers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware write the same kind of simple, uncomplicated bill that exists in Florida: that all meetings of public agencies be open to the public.
(Presented by Peter W. Duncan-WCAT-TV Editorial Director)
KNXT EDITORIAL Subject: Television in the House and Senate Broadcast: September 10 and 11, 1973
Did it ever occur to you, while watching the Senate Watergate hearing, that when the Senators kept running out to vote on some bill it night be interesting to watch them operate on the Senate floor?
Repeatedly during the hearings, they had to call time out to go to the Senate chambers and vote, and sometimes it was on highly important matters like the halt to Cambodia bombing, or use of highway funds for rapid transit. But no camera followed the Senators to the floor to show you what they were doing, because that's not allowed. Cameras covered the committee meetings, but you've never seen pictures of the Senate or House in session, because cameras of any kind are considered poison on the floor.
The real reason why the House and Senate ban cameras from their chambers is that most of the time not many Congressmen are around. They are afraid that pictures might be misinterpreted by you.
Actually, the Senators and Representatives have to be elsewhere much of the time. But they don't think you'd understand that, so cameras are banned. Even a tourist has to check his camera at the door before he can go see his Congressmen and Senators in action-and that's ridiculous.
Senator Robert Byrd proposed the other day that Senate sessions on the floor be open for live television coverage. Byrd has a good idea. We think the great interest shown in the Watergate hearings demonstrated that the public does want to see what goes on. Instead of letting a few tourists in to watch for a few minutes at a time, we think the Senate and House should open up for cameras and let every American see what goes on. After all, it's our government-not a private club which only the members can see.
CHANNEL 4 EDITORIAL-SUNSHINE Law Our state's Attorney General, John Danforth, has officially outlawed secret meetings of public bodies. His opinion gives added teeth to Missouri's Open Meetings Ordinance, better known as the "Sunshine Law", and has our support.
Before passage of Sunshine legislation many public bodies met in secret. The code phrase for these meetings became Executive Session, and many groups rarely met in public. This prompted our legislature to outlaw these private meetings—however the ordinance is still being tested.
While it may be important to conduct work behind the scenes some of the time, a steady diet of Executive Sessions has at least two harmful outcomes.
First, the public is kept in the dark about an issue until after a decision is made. This means our leaders are deprived of an important source of information.
Second, there can be misunderstandings about the decision. With all the discussion and debate going on behind closed doors, the reason and logic behind a specific ruling never becomes part of the public domain.
Danforth's ruling has set an important precedent which will hopefully go a long way in restoring trust in our public officials. Broadcast: Thursday, December 20, 1973.
WCBS NEWSRADIO EDITORIAL Subject: They've Got a Secret 74-4. Broadcast: January 4, 1974, 6:45, 9:45, 11:45 a.m., 3:45, 5:45, 10:45 p.m., January 5, 1974, 1:45, 3:45 a.m.
Of all the games city councilmen play, the one they should give up first is "I've Got a Secret."
They must have a secret because the most important work councilmen do is done behind closed doors. Even their employers-that's you-aren't allowed to be there.
The critical committee meetings where legislation is finalized and votes are taken are always closed to the public.
What goes on in the closed meetings has been called the "nuts and bolts” of legislative work. Too often that's a polite term for politicking.
Supporters of council secrecy contend that councilmen would be distracted if you watched while they worked. We believe that if your elected officials have something to say, you should be able to hear it.
Councilmen who want to keep the doors closed say that the media has little trouble finding out what goes on, anyway. But the only door open there is one for selective leaks by members with axes to grind.
WCBS has urged for years that all committee meetings be open to the public. After all, it's the public's business that's being conducted.
Some state legislatures are beginning to respond. And so has the House of Representatives. But so far, the city council has decided to keep the committee doors shut.
You should be outraged by this. You should also demand that it be changed and now is the time to do it.
The newly elected council will draw up its new rules this month. You should send a message to City Hall. Tell them one rule you want changed is the one that lets the council lock you out. CBS Radio NETWORK News
February 19, 1974.
"ONE VIEW OF THE PRESS" URGES RADIO-TV COVERAGE OF CONGRESSIONAL FLOOR
DEBATES Why shouldn't voters have more of a chance to see and hear their elected representatives in Washington in action? That question was posed and answered positively on the CBS Radio Network's CBS News-produced ONE VIEW OF THE PRESS, Sunday, Feb. 17, with CBS News Correspondent Dallas Townsend reporting. The complete text follows:
"The Joint Committee on Congressional Operations this week will open hearings on ways for Congress to use the mass media to communicate better with the public and on the possibility of opening House and Senate floor debates to radio and television coverage. As a prelude to the hearings, the committee has issued a report declaring that the accumulation of communications resources by the executive branch poses a serious threat to the balance of powers between the Presidency and the Congress. Wider broadcast coverage of the Congress sounds like a good idea whose time is long past due. Why shouldn't the voters have more of a chance to see and hear their elected representatives in action-action other than trying to get re-elected? There are, of course, objections raised, one being that television coverage, in particular, might turn the Capitol building into a two-ring circus, with Senators and Representatives hamming it up for the folks back home and letting the nation's business go to rot.
"In fairness, we'd have to say that the televising of some committee hearings has provided some evidence for that view. However, the most casual reading of The Congressional Record makes it plain that television lights are really not needed to bring out the ham. And a look at the record of Congress-this or almost any other Congress-indicates that the nation's business can often be sidetracked without any help from the cameras.
“A graver objection to wider televising of Congress is that public confidence in government might be dealt a blow from which it would never recover; that cameo shots of Senators sleeping with their mouths open and speeches made after undue indulgence at lunchtime might disgust the old and corrupt the young; that few Congressmen would survive more than one term in office; that the legislative branch of government might lose all continuity and things would fall apart completely, leaving all governmental power in the hands of the executive by default. But we believe that such a scenario requires far too cynical a view of our public servants to be taken seriously.
"In genuine seriousness, there is one danger that could cause second thoughts about permitting cameras and microphones in the chambers of Congress. It could result in more of the work of Congress being done in the old smoke-filled rooms and behind the closed doors of executive sessions, thereby reducing the absolute amount of press coverage. But that is something Congress itself can provide safeguards against, if it really wants to open its workings to wider public view. Besides, it can always change its mind if television and radio coverage should prove counterproductive. We think it ought to be tried.
"One thing does bother us. Using radio and television to communicate better with the public is, perhaps, not the best way of phrasing what we'd like to see happen. The opening of Congressional workings to public view via radio and television says it better. That quibble seems necessary because the word 'use' carries the connotation of ‘manipulate.' The media already are, in our opinion, used far too much. As we mentioned in a previous broadcast, Senators and Congressmen have for years had available to them radio and television studios at the Capitol, where they can tape chats, speeches and interviews for the voters back home-tapes that are then played by a dismaying number of stations around the country as bona fide news stories. That is using the media to communicate with the public, communicating, that is, what the Senator or Representative wants the public to hear, what he and his staff think will help his image.
"The media and the country at large could use a good deal less of that kind of use from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. We hope and trust that more of that is not what the Joint Committee has in mind."
One View of the Press is produced and written by Dale Minor.
Corporation for Public Broadcasting
WASHINGTON, D.C., June 7, 1974. Hon. LEE METCALF, U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C.
DEAR SENATOR METCALF: The questions you forwarded to me regarding Congress and the media were very interesting and evidence of the concern I know you have on the subject of access by the media to the legislative process. The Corporation staff has studied the questions and has consulted with the other national public broadcasting organizations to be assured that your committee will receive complete answers to all the questions.
Because the Corporation does not actually produce any programs, but instead provides funds to these other organizations for the production of programs, CPB has never been involved in the production details on which you have requested information. We are aware that the Public Broadcasting Service, National Public Radio and the National Public Affairs Center for Television have already replied or soon will be replying to the questions dealing with technical and production matters. Any information we could supply to you would of necessity be the same as the information they have provided.
I would like to comment generally, however, in response to question 6 on your list. As I emphasized in my testimony before your committee, it is imperative that Congress provide greater access to its deliberations for the electronic media. The most important step the Congress can take to improve the understanding of the legislative process by the American people is to allow coverage of a wide spectrum of Congressional operations and to guarantee that the broadcasters have complete editorial control over the material to be broadcast.
Public broadcasting is uniquely capable of providing extensive coverage of legislative proceedings and has a longstanding record of coverage at the local and state level. Our experience there has proven that with modern technology the normal proceedings are not interrupted by allowing cameras and microphones to record all the various Committee meetings and floor debates which may be of interest.
Recently the editorial pages of many newspapers have discussed some of the merits and potential dangers of opening the Congress, on a regular basis, to the mass media (in a manner similar to the coverage currently provided at the UN). I would like to emphasize again that responsible electronic journalism, especially the extensive coverage public broadcasting could provide, would in no way distort or disrupt the Congress, but would provide access for the American public to the information they require to understand the legislative process.
I hope these brief comments have helped to amplify the statements I made during the Committee's hearings, and if I can provide any further information please let me know. I trust that the answers provided by PBS, NPR, and NPACT will respond more fully to the technical questions you have asked. Sincerely,
HENRY LOOMIS. National Public Radio
NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO,
Washington, D.C., May 17, 1974. Senator LEE METCALF, Chairman, Joint Committee on Congressional Operations, Congress of the United
States, Washington, D.C. DEAR SENATOR METCALF: Here are the responses on behalf of National Public Radio to the questions sent with your letter of May 8, 1974. I hope the information proves helpful to you and the committee as you consider legislation on this important matter.
I would use this occasion to raise one point that should not be overlooked. The requirements for radio broadcasting are different in some ways than those for television. Since radio is much less obtrusive and requires less equipment, there is a tendency to overlook it and its special requirements.
We appreciate the opportunity to make our views known on broadcasting the proceedings of Congress. Sincerely yours,
LEE C. FRISCHKNECHT.
RESPONSES TO QUESTIONS FOR NETWORK OFFICIALS 1. Attached is a list (Attachment 1) of the hearings NPR has transmitted since program services began in April 1971. (See p. 463.]
2. Most committees in both houses permit us to broadcast their hearings. The main exceptions are the full committee meetings of the Senate Judiciary Committee (although we have been permitted to broadcast subcommittee meetings) and the House Ways and Means Committee. We have not been permitted to broadcast markup sessions in the Senate, although the Government Operations and Interior Committees seem to be changing their attitudes on this. Although there still is some sensitivity on the House side, owing to its relatively recent decision to permit broadcasts of hearings, the House holds more open meetings than the Senate does and House committees are generally more cooperative.
3. We have requested and were granted permission to broadcast the energy emergency act conference. We plan to ask permission to broadcast the conference on No Fault Insurance, if there is one. And we hope to cover future conference meetings dealing with legislation of significance to our listeners.
4. Our general practice is to request permission of any committee holding open hearings we would like to broadcast. Some committees, such as those dealing with military affairs, hold few open meetings. We wonder if so many closed sessions are necessary and would be interested in broadcasting some. But we have not so far pressed to get into these committee meetings.
5. Our coverage of Congress as an institution and its legislative process has been extensive. In our earlier testimony we cited our “Biography of a Bill' coverage of the No Fault Insurance legislation. We have also followed a candidate from his campaign and election through the period leading up to his installation as a new Congressman, with all the preparation, orientation, learning involved for him. We occasionally go back to him for updating on the life of a first-term Congressman. We have given extensive coverage to various proposals for Congressional reform, including those before your committee and the Bolling committee. In covering the House Rules Committee, we explain the legislative process as well as the substance of the legislation.
6. One important step in improving understanding of proceedings on the floor (and also in committees) would be to establish a centralized system to provide information about forthcoming debates and hearings well in advance. Broadcasters, particularly networks, need time to inform listeners and stations about such events. Stations need time to work such coverage into their program schedules. Reporters need time to prepare for coverage, including time to tape interviews in advance for use before sessions begin or during recesses. A minimum of two weeks' notice would do much to improve coverage.
Of course, opening the floor sessions to broadcasting would itself do much to improve understanding, particularly if a radio commentator was stationed in the gallery to note who is speaking and explain rules and parliamentary procedure.
7. If pool coverage is provided, it is desirable for each network to have a unilateral microphone in order that the reporter or commentator from each network may provide the appropriate reportage indicated in the preceding paragraph and in item 9 below.
8. The major change, of course, would be to permit radio coverage from balconies of the two chambers. Beyond that we would urge that the recording of radio interviews be granted in the House Lobby. There has been talk of merging the print and broadcast galleries. While there would be advantages for us in the extra space, we fear that the difference in requirements in news conference situations might create difficulties. The print reporters need more secondary details for their stories and often get their complete stories from such news conferences. Radio reporters get the main details from such conferences but usually must supplement them with brief interviews. The interview format is much more successful in communicating by radio than is the news conference.