Monday, July 30, 2007

BTV10: Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants

Good morning Hamsters,

Here's an earlier version of a piece I had published in the Cascadia Weekly, the subject of which remains in progress.
Those who agree could help by letting the City know your wishes!
Credit for the title goes to former Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis.
Improving public communications by televising Council meetings on BTV10 has been surprisingly successful. How many people do you hear talking about something they saw on the City’s educational and governmental cable channel lately, since the audio-visual capabilities of Council Chambers were upgraded, the quality of the broadcasts improved and the number of viewers increased?

As successful as BTV10 has become in making our local government more transparent and inclusive, it can become even better - providing some minor additional funding is dedicated from cable franchise fees to pay for it.

I believe we need to televise the Council afternoon Work Sessions, because these are often earlier, more candid exchanges that inform the action the Council takes at it’s evening regular meetings. For one example, PowerPoint presentations made in the afternoon don’t always get repeated at night, despite their importance. Citizens have a right to that kind of information, at their convenience!

To make additional funding available to televising all Council meetings will require four Council votes to slightly increase the cable franchise fee. Currently, the City is using only 4.25% of the 5% that is available to it. The first 3% goes to the General Fund, and all funding over that is dedicated to BTV10 use. By contrast, the County uses its entire 4%, all of which goes into its General Fund.

Each additional 1/4% is currently equivalent to about $35,000 in revenues per year, so something in excess of $100,000 per year is now not being used, which means this funding source is permanently forfeited.

Determining how much additional funding is needed to cover the expense of televising and airing all Council work sessions is needed to define how much additional revenue is needed. Each 1/4% increase would cost cable TV subscribers about 20 cents each month or $2.40 per year. But, Council needs to decide to direct staff to determine the information needed before considering any increase.

Some other options exist to provide coverage of the afternoon work sessions.
One is to film them and produce reference DVDs for viewing by anyone unable to attend the meetings, or wanting to review it again. Already, the City has this capability, since all recorded images are captured digitally. The City would likely need some extra manpower to extend production editing to cover all the extra afternoon meetings not now being filmed.
Also, Streaming Video files could be made available via Internet on the City’s web site. But, without the afternoon sessions being actually filmed, none of these options is possible.

Some have suggested that Council meetings could be broadcast live and this too is possible. Another option might be to show heavily attended meetings in progress on monitors located outside Council Chambers. Seattle does this now, and it is useful with those meetings or events that attract extraordinary interest. Space in the Council Chambers is limited, and other venues are not equipped for the same quality of filming.

One of the Council goals, when it decided to upgrade its audio-video capability in 2004, was to make these Chambers a preferred venue for important public meetings. In the same way that installing artificial turf at Civic Stadium increased that facilities usage by as much as six times, the enhanced audio-visual capability in Council Chambers is now having a similar effect. Still, a significant increase in the number -and type- of televised public meetings there is still possible.

Despite the steady stream of complaints from local corporate media about costs to taxpayers and allegations of city ‘spin’ on issues, these televised meeting broadcasts do capture important presentations, announcements, discussion of issues and Council voting in unadulterated form, for use at viewers’ convenience. That feature alone, is a huge improvement over any coverage that corporate media could possibly provide, in terms of accuracy, completeness or candor. It remains a mystery why some local media continue to disparage BTV10, because they –and the public- are such obvious major beneficiaries of it!

Maybe the media is as uncomfortable with such unforgiving public scrutiny as some decision-makers appear to be? Information is power, so why not provide it to people, unadulterated, and un-spun by anyone or any organization?
WYSIWYG means 'what you see is what you get'. Seems like a good goal to me, but that's just my opinion!