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EFFECTS ON LEADERSHIP CPTV's coverage has had the unqualified support of nearly all of the leaders of the General Assembly. Legislative leaders from both sides of the aisle, whether in the majority or the minority, have been enthusiastic. They understand that television coverage works to their advantage and the advantage of the public. The coverage shows the folks back home the importance of any legislative leader's work.
Among the leadership, the “ins' have the clout to arrange the legislative calendar so as to have certain matters taken up when they think television coverage will be most beneficial to their cause. On the other hand, the “outs" have the opportunity to take their case to the people through well researched and prepared floor debate, when they feel that the majority party is taking a position not to their liking.
The leadership, partly because of their sensitivity to the power of television, have instituted some real reforms brought about in part by television. While long debates still occur (sometimes due to the presence of television), the Assembly is now more punctual. Decision making is now more open to public scrutiny, particularly at the committee level. The practice of passing many bills without proper identification and debate (as occurred from time to time in past sessions) has not occurred in the past two sessions.
EFFECT ON THE ADMINISTRATION One could agrue that television coverage of the General Assembly has raised the Legislature's stature before the public in relation to the Governor, simply by focusing attention on and bringing the action of the Legislature into prominent public view. On the other hand, in recent years the Governor has been able to make arrangements with the General Assembly leadership to deliver his major addresses to the Assembly in joint convention during prime time hours when the maxium number of television viewers are available.
But another important advantage to the Governor is that same advantage accorded all viewers. From his home or office, he can see firsthand what is happening on the floor of the House or the Senate. There have been occasions when Governor Thomas Meskill, during floor action on important legislation, has sat in his office with his aides and a television set, ready to use his intelligence sources and his analysis of the flow and demeanor of the debate to take whatever immediate action he can to protect his own position relative to the matter under discussion. During all of this, the Governor was also in position to judge what his constituents, the viewers, might be thinking as they watched the debate.
EFFECT ON THE OVERALL PROCESS
To veteran students of the legislative process in Connecticut, the most visible change in the process attributable to television is the change in decorum. This has been especially evident on adjournment night. Many long-time observers recall adjournment night as a time for revelry and merriment which began prior to actual adjournment and continued on afterward into the night. During these sessions bill files became confetti and were strewn about the legislative chambers creating a scene not unlike Times Square on New Years Eve. Many members of the legislature reportedly conducted last minute business in varying states of intoxication. These sessions were unruly. Some members were alleged to be completely oblivious to what was being passed into law.
Live coverage of adjournment night was provided for the first time in 1969. While legislation did move at a fast pace, the decorum was markedly improved over the preceding adjournment nights. There was no confetti. The relative order was symbolic of the improvement in decorum that has characterized all sessions since "the people's window” was opened.
But more important is the knowledge that television has been a constructive force which has resulted in greater public understanding of the decision-making process that affects the public well-being. Through television, each individual has been given the opportunity to hold his or her representatives accountable for their stewardships of the power to make laws.
EFFECT ON THE PRESS Connecticut is fortunate to have as competently and completely staffed a Capitol newsroom as it does. Most of the State's large daily newspapers send at least one reporter to the Capitol during a legislative session. One TV station
maintains a full-time Capitol bureau; the other stations frequently send reporters and photographers during sessions. Only one radio station provides full-time staff. Others send reporters with varying frequency, while most rely heavily on the wire services. UPI and AP have full-time bureaus at the Capitol which are augmented during legislative sessions. Yet no one single news gathering entity can cover everything of significance during a session.
CPTV cannot claim sufficient staff to assure the reporting of all that needs to be reported. But with persistent and complete coverage of important legislative events and issues, other media seem to have found incentive to increase their own efforts. This has been particularly true of other TV stations. Meanwhile, on some occasions CPTV has been able to assist other stations with live video and audio feeds of important happenings.
In 1967 when CPTV first moved into the Capitol with video equipment, some of the other media, particularly print journalists, were resentful. They resented what they felt was needlessly lengthy floor debate which they blamed on the presence of the TV cameras. At the same time, they could see that their own newspaper reports could be scooped by the instantaneous capability of television. They also resented the way the cameras which had visibly and suddenly come on the scene, instantly commanded the attention of the legislators.
Once during the 1969 session when CPTV cameras were set for a news conference with the minority leadership, the print media journalists boycotted the conference and demanded that a separate meeting be held for them. In that case, they were particularly resentful of the reality of the way the television cameras could record and broadcast their questions and the ensuing news making answers before their own stories could even be set into type.
As the television coverage became more consistent and the importance of this new medium became more apparent, the representatives of the print media began to be more cooperative. In recent sessions, members of the print media have appeared on programs originated by CPTV at the Capitol. Editorials in praise of the coverage have been printed. And some of the print journalists have found CPTV's coverage of some of the debates to be a convenience in helping them with their own coverage of the event when they found it necessary to be off the floor while the event was in progress.
EFFECT ON THE GENERAL PUBLIC
public television has the potential to reach the same masses reached regularly by commercial television. While at a given moment, public television may be directing its programming at a relatively small specialized audience, feedback from viewers indicates that there were many sets tuned in for the coverage of the Legislature. Debates on special issues attracted special interests. As noted earlier, some legislators reported considerable feedback from their constituents.
Some theoriticians in mass communications postulate the theory that individual citizen decision making is more a product of persuasive peer contact than mass contact with information presented in the media. This theory further concludes that there is a sprinkling of individuals in any social context who have a better than average interest in certain public matters and a better than average ability to be persuasive as to their own conclusions when they came into contact with their peers.
This concept of communication through “opinion leaders' seems to fit the pattern of evidence of who watches coverage of the Legislature. These "opinion leaders” respond to the legislators. They write to CPTV and to newspapers. But their individual impact on those with when they come in contact in their everyday lives cannot be measured.
PROS AND CONS TO DATE Television technology still does not allow the portability of the reporter's pencil and notebook. The enterprising reporter can go to places where he can see and hear things the TV camera and microphone cannot reach. But the television reporter can go wherever his colleagues from the print media can go and later report his findings before the camera and microphone. For the most part, CPTV has been able to collect and broadcast much of the behind the scenes activity relevant to whatever is going on on the floor when live coverage is under way or in regular or special reports.
Sometimes floor debate is long and dull. At these times it is especially aggravating to many viewers if live coverage of an event is causing the preemption of another regularly scheduled CPTV program. In such cases, CPTV always tries to find another time to present the regularly scheduled broadcast.
Charges to the contrary notwithstanding, fair and accurate reporting of the Connecticut General Assembly never makes the Assembly or its members look bad. If they look bad it is because they are that way. Hard working members come across as such and television helps them receive the credit they deserve. Meanwhile citizens who would never otherwise step inside the capitol building are afforded the opportunity to see these men and women at work.
THE WILLIAM BENTON FOUNDATION This record of coverage of the Connecticut General Assembly would not have been possible without the generosity of The William Benton Foundation. The late Senator and his colleagues had the wisdom to see the potential good that could be derived from such activity and have been supportive since 1963.
For coverage of the 1969 session, the Benton Foundation awarded a grant of $15,000. Coverage of the 1971 session was supported in part by a grant of $25,000. The 1972 session, the first regular even year session this century, was supported in part by two grants totaling $32,500. And the Benton Foundation covered nearly all costs of the 1973 session with a grant of $37,500.
Television production is expensive. Costs are especially high for remote operations involving large amounts of equipment and large crews—often on overtime. These expenses could not have been met without the help of the William Benton Foundation.
CPTV looks forward to continued coverage of the Connecticut General Assembly and the continued support of the Benton Foundation.
There will always be a place for live coverage of legislative sessions, hearings, interviews and discussions. CPTV will strive to increase this kind of coverage. However, these traditional reporting methods must now be supplemented by activity outside the State Capitol building.
The sophistication of the medium has conditioned the viewer to expect more and more visual information about the subject of the issue under discussion. There is also the pressing need to relate in a concrete and intimate way the issues being discussed by legislators in Hartford to all the people of the State from Stonington to Salisbury.
Ways to involve the people in two-way dialogue with their legislators; ways to visualize the issues as they exist out in the field must be found. These goals can be accomplished only if more resources can be found to bring about their implementation.
BACKGROUND RESEARCH AND STUDIES
“Accountability for the Legislature: The Impact of Extended Television Coverage”
MARCH 28, 1974. Mr. FRANK V. DONOVAN, Meriden, Conn.
DEAR MR. DONOVAN: Thank you for your recent note enclosing a copy of your speech presented September 27, 1973 at a meeting of the National Conference of State Legislative Leaders.
I appreciate your making this material available to the Joint Committee and assure you that it has been a helpful addition to our reference materials compiled on this general topic. Very truly yours,
MERIDEN, Conn., February 26, 1974. Hon. LEE METCALF, Old Senate Building, Washington, D.C.
DEAR SENATOR METCALF: I thought you might be interested in this speech in light of the article (“Congress on Television") in the February 23-March 1, 1974 edition of TV Guide. Very truly yours,
FRANK V. DONOVAN. Enclosure.
Accountability for the Legislature: The Impact of Extended
Frank V. Donovan, Legislative correspondent
Panel on: Informing the Public Through the Media
Seattle, Washington - September 27, 1973
Public opinion surveys indicate that Americans regard television to be their "most believable" source of news. It is significant, therefore, that state legislatures are increasingly opening their decision-making processes to the public via extended, in-depth, television coverage, particularly by public television outlets. Neither institution may be the same again.
Such coverage goes far beyond normal state capitol reporting. In states where performed well, the new relationship appears to be helping to bring about fundamental, positive changes in the manner and accountability with which the peoples' business is being conducted.
This is no small accomplishment at a time when public confidence in
government and politicians is so low.
The judgment nets out the many pros and cons, but generally, the coverage is being welcomed by concerned citizens and thoughtful
legislators alike. The former because of their demand for a responsive
and responsible legislature; the latter because of their desire for
greater public awareness and understanding of the work of their branch of state government, work upon which they must stand for reelection.
At a time when many state capitol news bureaus are thinly
staffed and when state governmental units are relying more heavily on press agents this opportunity for people to see for themselves, without "manipulation," is particularly useful.
As a student of government, I consider such extended television coverage as one of the major forces shaping legislatures today. Aside from what pollster Lou Harris called "the changing mix" of the American people, the other forces include the U.S. Supreme Court's reapportionment decisions, the "New Federalism" with revenue-sharing, and the legislative modernization efforts of legislatures and reform groups. (e.g. Eagleton Institute, the Citizens' Conference on State Legislatures, and most recently common Cause.)
Let's take a moment to place your situation into perspective. Political scientists remind us that there is a deeply-rooted antipolitical bias in American folkways. From Colonial times, Americans have never really held politicians in high esteem. Vietnam, Watergate, and now the Agnew affair have reinforced this not altogether unhealthy view. To further compound the situation, pollsters have found repeatedly that, with few exceptions, most people do not care that much about most
public issues most of the time. For the average citizen, personal
concerns about health, family, job and "making ends meet" normally take precedence.
It is not surprising, therefore, that individual legislators lament
the low public awareness of the state legislature on one hand and then
decry the results of what media coverage they do receive with its real or imagined "unfairness" and "ineptitude." Chances are that some of you can cite personal examples of what you consider "inaccurate," "superficial," "biased," "sensationalized" or even "poisonous" reporting. My own
experience, however, has been that most reporters do succeed in doing
competent even-handed reportage, day in and day out, despite some very severe job constraints. (For a detailed discussion of this problem you may have seen this Citizen's Conference reprint "What's Wrong with Statehouse Coverage," by Thomas B. Littlewood of the Chicago Sun-Times