Legislators look for CT-N to keep its focus on them

ctmirror.org

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman preview their budget on opening day with Diane Smith of CT-N.

The General Assembly is proposing to assert greater control over the Connecticut Network, keeping the state-funded public affairs network known as CT-N tightly focused on the legislature’s debates, hearings and press conferences.

Under the terms of a new request for proposals, the network would be barred from covering the other branches of government without legislative approval, potentially closing a window on selected Supreme Court arguments and administrative proceedings.

A provision that now gives “full editorial discretion regarding day-to-day programming” to the Connecticut Public Affairs Network, the non-profit operator of CT-N, is absent from a new RFP issued by the legislature’s Office of Legislative Management.

Daniel J. Klau, a lawyer who is chairman of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, said it would be a loss to see CT-N retreat from coverage of all three branches of government and become solely a communication outlet of the legislature.

“There are three branches of government, not one,” Klau said. “As an open government person and advocate, I believe it’s important for CT-N to cover all three branches. That’s the biggest change — and the most troubling one.”

CT-N often is compared to C-SPAN, the cable channel that provides gavel-to-gavel coverage of Congress and other public-affairs programming, but C-SPAN is funded and operated by the cable industry, not government.

“We understood that the legislature, as the contracting party, always was the ultimate authority,” Klau said.

The network has evolved over the years, slowly broadening its coverage to include press conferences and limited original programming, such as a week in a review show, interviews with state officials and coverage of state political conventions. Its programming is available on most cable systems and on a web site that provides streaming video.

The state provides $2.7 million in annual funding, but the RFP anticipates a $300,000 cut and says, “The CGA is seeking to reduce the scope and spending for the production of CT-Network understanding that this reduction may require decreasing the amount and types of coverage.”

The Connecticut Public Affairs Network, the non-profit that operates CT-N under a contract with the legislature, has yet to submit a proposal, according to Pat Sheehan, the former television anchor who is chairman of the non-profit’s board of directors.

“It’s under review, and we are judging the appropriateness of our response,” Sheehan said. He declined further comment.

Proposals are due May 17.

The new RFP was drafted under the guidance of four senior staffers from the Democratic and Republican caucuses of the Senate and House: Adam Joseph and Larry Perosino are communication directors of the Democratic caucuses; Robert Poudrier Jr. and Jennifer Skehan are chiefs of staff for the GOP caucuses.

Perosino said the goal is to return CT-N to its roots, while allowing broader coverage if its resources permit. As is the case with other areas of the budget, the state is looking to save money, he said.

“CT-N was created by the legislature and was always focused on the legislature. With the contract coming up, we had to look at making sure it focused on the main mission,” Perosino said.

“We are trying to ensure we get the best value for our tax dollars,” Joseph said.

Poudrier said CT-N on some occasions has opted to cover a meeting of an administrative board instead of a legislative hearing or meeting.

“I’ll just reinforce we want to get back to the primary responsibilty of CT-N, which is gave-to-gavel coverage” of the legislature, he said. “At times, their decisions on what to cover really haven’t been in the public interest.”

Skehan could not be reached for comment, but Patrick O’Neill, a spokesman for the House Republicans, said the new RFP was intended to save money and prioritize coverage of legislative activities, not to place legislators in the role of program directors.

“This has been seen as a tool to bring state government to a much broader audience. The legislature doesn’t really determine what gets covered on a daily basis,” he said.

Klau said a better approach might be to mandate certain legislative coverage, as do the existing contract and pending RFP, and leave the rest to the discretion of CT-N.

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