For 28 years, it was easy to find live television coverage of the California Legislature on cable systems across the state. The gavel-to-gavel broadcasting ensured that those who were interested could hold legislators accountable for their votes in Sacramento.
But that won’t be the case when the Legislature reconvenes four weeks from today. The California Channel, the venerable broadcasting organization launched in 1991, went dark on Oct. 16 after its cable television patrons decided to cut the funding and pull the plug.
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“Think about it nationally: If C-SPAN went away, people would lose their minds,” said Assemblyman Kevin Mullin (D-South San Francisco).
LIVE TV OR LIVESTREAM OF CALIFORNIA’S CAPITOL?
The California Channel was a mom-and-pop operation in comparison to C-SPAN. Its broadcast day was less than eight hours long until additional taped programs paved the way for an around-the-clock schedule in 2009. Even then, the effect was measured more in reach — 136 cable systems at last measurement — than actual ratings.
(Full disclosure: I served as moderator of a 2014 gubernatorial debate jointly produced by the Los Angeles Times, KQED and the Cal Channel.)
Times columnist George Skelton wrote in September that the Cal Channel’s annual budget was $1.2 million. Cable industry officials insist it was not money but relevance that led to their decision. The Legislature is now required to post recordings of all proceedings online within 24 hours, and there is some legislative-controlled livestreaming of floor debates in the state Senate and Assembly.
“The coverage provided by the Cal Channel became duplicative,” said Carolyn McIntyre, president of the California Cable & Telecommunications Assn.
Mullin and legislative officials have been studying the options for bringing legislative proceedings back to television screens instead of just relying on internet service. One hurdle, he admitted, is perception: They don’t want to be seen as being in charge of “state-run television,” as Mullin called it. The other dilemma is getting the signal to each cable provider, a process complicated by the fact that Cal Channel’s technical infrastructure has already been dismantled and in some cases donated to others.
“Itʼs more complicated than anyone realized,” he said last week.
The early effort will rely on streaming video sent by the Legislature to PEG (public, educational and government) access channels across the state. What happens after that depends on whether others — journalists and nonprofits alike — get involved. “I hope someone steps in and sees the public value in this,” said Mullin.
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Essential Politics is written by Sacramento bureau chief John Myers on Mondays and Washington bureau chief David Lauter on Fridays.
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