TVW provides an important service for Washington state, airing raw video of legislative meetings and policy-oriented events that no other channel does. Not even close. Thanks to tvw.org, busy people like you and journalists like me don’t have to drive all the way to the state Capitol to see what’s going on. We can view most proceedings over the air or on streaming online video — in real time, or days, months and years later.
The Olympia-based public access channel does its work on a limited budget. Equipment should have been replaced years ago, but the Legislature has failed to help. Last March, The Seattle Times editorial board highlighted TVW’s significance as an important tool to ensure government is transparent.
So I’m disappointed to read a Nov. 21 news story by The (Tacoma) News Tribune, which reports the state Senate’s top Republican and some of his caucus are not so happy with TVW. Last Thursday night, they expressed dismay over two meetings that were recorded months ago in committee hearing rooms. State Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, called these “pretend hearings, and TVW carried them with the credibility of a hearing.”
Schoesler questioned whether TVW’s decision to document those events was an “appropriate use of TVW or the Legislature.” Why? Because they featured only Democrats? Or because they featured Democrats getting the spotlight and a public airing over at least one measure — the Reproductive Parity Act — that the Republican-dominated majority would not allow a hearing on?
TVW is stuck in the middle of a non-issue ahead of a tough session that is going to need the station to televise as many meetings as possible, whether they are news conferences or hearings, in a hallway or in a committee room. The state Capitol grounds are a public space. Wherever Democrats or Republicans meet, TVW is doing us all a favor covering what they have to say.
Viewers are smart enough to differentiate between a full hearing with all committee members, and one with just be a handful of lawmakers. TVW interim President Mike Bay says the Democratic events in the hearing rooms were indeed a new thing last session. Moving forward, the station could shield itself from lawmakers’ ire by making locations and the nature of events crystal clear in graphics at the bottom of the screen. I looked at archived versions of the two meetings in question (on retirement and abortion) and it appears TVW has clearly labeled them as Democratic sessions. They’ve got this under control without lawmakers meddling and telling them what they can or cannot air.
It doesn’t seem to me that the station committed any major ethical lapses. Just this week, the conservative-leaning Washington Policy Center highlighted the first-ever use of remote video testimony (which is a great thing) in state Sen. Mike Padden’s Law & Justice Committee. The Center linked to TVW’s website, which made video of that hearing available for the public to view, and the Times today editorialized in favor of expanded remote testimony.
Bay says some of the station’s equipment is so old, they cannot replace broken parts. All committee rooms are currently outfitted with three cameras for television. Heading into the 2015 session, one of those rooms will likely be a webcast-only room because there is no money to fix or replace the TV-quality cameras.
Lawmakers should gripe less about who gets air time and in which room. Focus instead on fixing the real problem of maintaining functioning cameras in the Capitol that shine a bright light on legislators’ actions.