Democracy Dies In Darkness

By Daniel J. Klau

For nearly two decades, the Connecticut Public Affairs Network (CPAN) has operated CT-N, Connecticut’ s version of C-SPAN, providing neutral, unbiased coverage of all three co-equal branches of Connecticut state government.

Now, due to an abject failure of leadership in the General Assembly, CT-N may shut down.

At a time when it is more important than ever to keep the light shining on the operations of state government — which just negotiated a two-year, $41.3 billion budget in near total secrecy — leadership in the General Assembly wants to turn the lights off.

Leadership argues that the state is in a fiscal crunch and that CT-N can’t be spared when it comes to budget cuts. The first part of the argument is absolutely correct, but the second part is political rhetoric intended to mask the true purpose behind the destructive cut in CT-N funding: wresting editorial control of CT-N away from CPAN and turning CT-N into nothing more than a 21st century equivalent of traditional legislative franking privileges. CT-N should not be reduced to the propaganda arm of the General Assembly.

Open government advocates, of which I am one, fully appreciate the state’s fiscal situation. That is why we didn’t resist the General Assembly’s original proposal, set forth in a request for proposal last spring, to reduce funding for CT-N from $2.7 million to $2.4 million annually. But the budget passed last week calls for a 65 percent cut in CT-N’s funding, making continued operation of the invaluable network virtually impossible.

CT-N isn’t dead yet. To their great credit, Gov. Dannel Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman have thrown CT-N a lifeline, offering $400,000 to help keep the network operating. In a letter to legislative leaders, Malloy and Wyman wrote today:

We have read with considerable and growing alarm about the end of coverage of state government by CT-N.

Of course, we know well that the state’s fiscal position means that everything we do must be scrutinized and curtailed in order to live within our means. That is happening in every state agency. But just as we have worked together in recent years to accomplish budget reductions without altogether eliminating important services, so should we collectively find a way to balance the budget without eliminating video coverage and archiving of important state civic events, including legislative sessions, committee meetings, public hearings, board and commission meetings, announcements from the executive branch, arguments before the State Supreme Court, and the like. If in fact the limited resources that are available under the budget — $1.2 million per year — are not enough to operate CT-N on some reasonable basis, we should reconsider how much we will make available.

We are also troubled that matters of editorial liberty and coverage of events other than the legislature may have played some role in the failure to come to a new agreement. The operator of CT-N should cover whatever is of interest to the public, and that should clearly include executive or judicial branch activities where they deem appropriate.

Fellow citizens of Connecticut, I urge you to contact your state representative and senator and tell them that they need to restore funding to CT-N. Tell the General Assembly that CT-N matters to you. Tell them that legislating in the dark is unacceptable. And remind them that the General Assembly is only one of three co-equal branches of government; CT-N must be allowed to continue to cover all three branches.

Daniel J. Klau is president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information and a member of NEFAC’s Board of Directors. This post originally appeared on Klau’s blog, CT Good Governance.

Above photo provided by Flickr user srophotos and used with cropping under a CC 2.0 license

NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.

Major Supporters of NEFAC for this year include the Barr Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Robertson Foundation, Lois Howe McClure, The Boston Globe and Boston University. Celebration Supporters include The Hartford Courant and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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