Contending that television news coverage of state government is "embarrassingly" inadequate, an independent organization called California Channel on Monday proposed a new government-affairs TV network, focusing chiefly on the Legislature.
Suggesting a system similar to the C-SPAN television coverage of Congress, the group called for installing cameras in the chambers and hearing rooms of the Assembly and Senate and broadcasting sessions live and by unedited tape to cable TV stations statewide.
Under the plan, control of the cameras--considered a critical element--would be in the hands of the Legislature. Actual broadcast by satellite of legislative actions to television stations would be handled by an independent operator. California Channel offered itself to fill that role.
Source of Funding
At the outset, taxpayers, foundations and corporations would provide the financing, ranging annually from $3.8 million for a bare-bones operation to $13.5 million for a "large-scale operation" on the air 12 hours a day. Later, according to the plan, private contributions would be replaced by cable subscriber fees as popularity of the coverage increased.
The concept received a warm reception from Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco). But other leaders took a wait-and-see stance.
"I'd definitely like to see us do it," Brown said. "I think the public literally needs more information about what goes on in the Legislature. Money could be a problem. We'll have to look at that closely."
Senate leader David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), who plans a Sept. 20 hearing of the Senate Rules Committee on the plan, said there "seems to be a lot of interest" in televising legislative proceedings. But Roberti said he wants to sample public reaction.
Assembly Republican leader Ross Johnson of La Habra said through a spokeswoman that he had no position on the California Channel proposal. "The Legislature will put together its own proposal if it decides to do this," said Anne Richards, his press secretary.
If the Legislature agrees to televise itself, concerns of the minority party, in this case the GOP, must be satisfied because virtually any money voted for the program would require Republican support for approval.
"We're just exploring possibilities," remarked Assemblywoman Gwen Moore (D-Los Angeles), chairwoman of the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee.
The network could be ready for testing late next year, the report said. The report resulted from a two-year study, prepared in large part by the Annenberg School of Communication at USC.
During Ronald Reagan's governorship in the mid-1960s and early 1970s, several television stations from Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco posted full-time news teams in Sacramento. Television budget decisions eventually led to the closure of all out-of-town TV news bureaus.
Feeds to Stations
However, Northern California News Service provides daily feeds by satellite to a dozen television stations in the state and two in southern Oregon.
In a report co-authored by Tracy Westen, an assistant professor at the Annenberg School, the California Channel charged that California's public affairs coverage by television "is an embarrassment compared to that of other jurisdictions."
The report said that in only Wyoming and Montana does the public get less television coverage of legislative affairs than in California. In six states, the report said, gavel-to-gavel coverage is available.
"Inadequate electronic media coverage of state government undermines the quality of representative government in California and contributes toward a high level of ignorance on the part of the state's citizens," the report said.
Paul Koplin, executive director of California Channel and a former official of Californians Against Handgun Violence and former marketing director of New Perspectives Quarterly magazine, said that in addition to legislative coverage, the new network also could cover arguments before the state Supreme Court, hearings of state government agencies and selected city council debates with statewide interest.
Steve Mallory, operator of Northern California News Service for television, objected to the report's conclusion that television is ignoring the Legislature.
"They flat out say television has abandoned the Capitol and that is bull," he said. "We have subscribers from San Diego to the Oregon line, in all the major markets. Stations who never before got daily coverage from the Capitol now are getting it."