FOR most Washingtonians, traveling to Olympia to attend the Legislature’s public hearings is difficult. Instead, many tune in to or stream Web video from TVW, the nonprofit public-affairs network that offers C-SPAN-like coverage of the state’s three government branches.
Constituents have a right to see their elected officials in action, to see what questions they ask, what arguments they make and what votes they take. Journalists rely on TVW’s live capabilities and vast archives to do their work. Cameras in the Capitol mean more transparency and access to political debates.
This valuable public service is threatened, though. Lawmakers and viewers must help.
TVW’s legislative cameras are old. Ancient, actually, by modern standards. Equipment used for the public-private partnership has not been upgraded since 1995.
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The station’s legislative request last session for $2.8 million to replace 49 robotic cameras — and controls to operate them — went nowhere. Though both houses support TVW, the station’s money was held hostage in a larger political battle. In the end, lawmakers did not pass a capital budget at all.
TVW cameras are mounted in every state Senate and House committee room — for now. Three devices broke last year; five more this year. TVW scrambled to move cameras from less-used rooms and out of its mobile units, which usually cover events and meetings statewide. There are no more backups.
“If they break, that’s what really worries me,” TVW general manager Greg Lane says.
The public should be concerned, too.
Some lawmakers do not consider transparency and giving citizens the ability to see their legislative actions a priority. A few might even prefer to have no cameras around to record their votes.
Lane says TVW is in the midst of a $5 million fundraising campaign. Without the state’s financial assistance, the station will have to raise nearly twice as much to maintain gavel-to-gavel coverage in the future. Lane says fundraising is constant, but it’s hard to squeeze private donors for millions more to cover the cameras.
TVW went on the air in 1995 as a public-private partnership with the state. Next session, the Legislature should kick in its share of funding to ensure video of legislative events continues to be available to the public.
Want open government? Donate to TVW directly by calling 360-725-3999.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).