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C-Span Wants More Access From Congress

C-SPAN wants the new Congress to let it run its own House floor coverage and to release house vote tallies more quickly after the voting has closed.

C-SPAN was not able to convince the Republican-controlled Congress to grant either request. The House Speaker controls the camera--a rule that is part of the nearly 30-year-old deal that convinced the long-resistant legislature to allow the cameras in the first place.

Early on, Congressfolk were concerned about the "gotcha" factor, and they were worried that independent cameras would spotlight the almost-empty chambers to which impassioned speaches were being made or catch legislators napping.

In a letter to speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi, C-SPAN Chairman Brian Lamb said the speaker's control has become an anachronism that "does a disservice to the institution and to the public."

The inability to pan the chamber or take reaction shots--C-SPAN is allowed a static podium-shot view of House floor proceedings--gives viewers "an incomplete picture of what is happening," said Lamb.

To lay the "gotcha" ghost to rest, Lamb pledged that C-SPAN would commit to covering House debate "fully, accurately, and with the unbiased production style on which we've built our reputation."

It also pledged to make that coverage available to others on a pool basis.

Secondly, Lamb wants public release of voting records immediately, rather than "long after the vote has closed." He points out that visitors to the chamber can see the total on an electronic tally board in real time. Because by the time the vote is released the House has often gone on to the next item on the agenda--sometimes almost instantly--and C-SPAN along with it, the cable net "rarely" includes the total in live coverage.

A similar letter is expected to go to the senate, but C-SPAN picked the House first becuase it was the first to get cameras, and because the camera angles in the House tend to be a tad more restrictive, according to C-SPAN spokesman Peter Kiley.