(This month’s Parting Shot features a guest commentary by Bunnie Riedel, executive director of the public, education and government channel advocacy group American Community Television.)
Lately it seems that every day a new scandal, real or manufactured, emerges from Washington, which seems to have diminished Americans’ opinion of government in general, according to a poll by opinion research firm Rasmussen Reports LLC. The survey shows that only 20 percent of those surveyed trust the federal government; 14 percent trust state government; and 34 percent trust local government.
The conclusion drawn from this is that the recent revelations about spying and abuses by federal agencies are responsible for the erosion in the public’s trust, but I say the real problem is a profound lack of transparency, causing people to feel disconnected from their government.
When Congress is in session there are typically dozens of hearings, meetings and floor votes occurring, and many of those actions are broadcast by C-Span. However, C-Span cannot possibly cover every event, so its producers make selections on which to broadcast. But the criteria used to select which meetings are covered is unknown.
Unlike the U.S. Congress, most state houses do not have real-time camera coverage, even for floor activity. But access the broadcast schedule of any public, educational or government access channel and you will see listed city and county council meetings, zoning and planning boards, school-board meetings and community activists commenting on local government.
Most government meetings are carried live; and when such meetings are webstreamed, it is a 90-percent probability that a PEG channel put it on the Internet. In addition, after the initial real-time broadcast, the PEG channels will routinely repeat a meeting so those who missed it can still see what occurred. And it is unheard of for a PEG channel to edit the video of those meetings before rebroadcast.
So it is clear that PEG access television provides transparency to government in ways no other television or Internet medium will ever do. PEG enables constituents, even in the tiniest of communities, to participate in governance. Viewers are able to follow elected officials and stay informed about what is going on; and they can see it unfold in real time. So much so that PEG access managers have shared tale after tale of city and town hall parking lots filling up with cars halfway through a meeting. The owners of those autos had been at home watching a council meeting from the comfort of a couch or recliner, until something was said or done that irritated them enough that they drove over to a meeting to offer their opinions in person.
MAKES LIVES EASIER
A senior staffer at a high-ranking Congressional office recently said to me that she regularly watches the school-board meetings on her education channel. The staffer said, “I don’t have time to attend those meetings…PEG access makes people’s lives easier.”
Yes it does.
And not only do PEG channels make our lives easier, it provides us access to democracy in its purest form, unfettered and unfiltered. For PEG broadcasts do not need a commentator to explain what just occurred at a county council or school board meeting, for the meeting is entering my living room on a frequent basis, and it can even be recorded for viewing at my convenience.
Yet, despite this miracle of transparency given to the American people nearly 30-years ago, PEG access television is under severe attack by cable and the telecom companies, and their lobbying efforts have resulted in the elimination of funding for PEG in 11 states.
In response, American Community Television is working to get a bill reintroduced in the U.S. Congress that would provide funding to PEG operations across the country and save as many as 500 PEG channels. The proposed Community Access Preservation Act would direct that funding come from the cable operators, not federal or state coffers. However, ACT has little money and few resources, yet I believe the bill will be passed. Why? Because PEG channels provide the transparency of government that Americans want and need.