Four Cheers for C-SPAN

I am probably not breaking news here, but I rely on C-SPAN for a lot of my access to the workings — or more often dysfunctionings — of Congress.

That means I rely on cable operators around the country who fund the channel — make that channels and website.

It is, in a word, indispensable.

It is also often taken for granted, for which C-SPAN has only itself to blame. Because it is so pervasive and so professionally run, the access it provides to our sausage-makers has come to feel like an entitlement, or at least a constitutional right.

Last week, Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) introduced what he called a “simple change” to House rules that would ensure the next congressional sit-in does not have to rely on Periscope or Facebook video streams to get out.

Actually, many were still relying on C-SPAN during the House sit-in last month, when the cameras were turned off, but social media lit up and the network was there to tap into it.

Bera said he figured most viewers assumed C-SPAN was part of the “public domain,” adding: “We ought to give control of those cameras back over to the media and the public, and have independent control.”

C-SPAN has long sought to be able to use its own cameras rather than have to take the feed from House cameras controlled by the Speaker. I agree, and this seems a good time for Congress to consider it.

Members of Congress will be going off to campaign for re-election in a week or so. When they get back, perhaps they can make that a parting gift to the nation.

But also noteworthy was Bera’s comment that most people probably thought C-SPAN was the public’s domain. Of course, that is just what it has become, thanks to the investment of the cable industry.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.