Live, from City Hall?

Published 5:02 pm Sunday, August 17, 2008

By Staff
Last week, Gary Tomasulo, president of the Historic Downtown Washington Merchants Association, asked the Washington City Council to think about televising its meetings.
He’s probably not alone in that sentiment.
It’s something the council should explore. Televising the council’s meetings would be a public service. For many people who cannot attend council meetings or even watch a live broadcast of such meetings, the opportunity to watch reruns of council meetings would prove informative, educational and beneficial.
There are many things to consider when it comes to airing such meetings. More than likely, council meetings would be aired on a local-access channel or government channel that’s part of the local cable-television system. And there’s been some talk, according to some reliable sources, that the local cable system wants to do away with those channels.
Would the council meetings be aired live or would they be videotaped and aired later? The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners meetings are videotaped and aired later. Some local governments, usually those with much more money than Beaufort County or Washington, use the live format to air their meetings.
Airing council meetings will cost money. Are city taxpayers willing to have some of their taxes used to pay for airing council meetings? Is is possible that an entity other than the city would pay for such broadcasts?
Whether it’s a live broadcast or a delayed, videotaped showing of a council meeting, viewers would get to see for themselves what happens at the meetings. To be sure, some of what they see will make them want to channel surf. Other things they observe and hear will grab their attention. No matter the subject matter, viewers would be able to watch and hear council members, city officials and others handle city business.
The broadcasts would better inform and educate people about how city government operates and what it is doing. That would be a good thing. That’s a good reason to broadcast council meetings.
With the cameras will come, on the part of council members and others, there are cameras focusing on them. There will be those council members who will take advantage of cameras being in the Council Chambers. It’s called playing to the camera. Speeches get longer, debates grow more heated and grandstanding creeps into the meetings.
Want proof? Just watch airings of the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners meetings on the local cable TV system.
Let the cameras show just how some elected officials act. Let the public decide who is working to make things better and who is more interested in looking good on the television screen.
Despite such playing to the camera, viewers get to see and hear for themselves how the people they elected are serving them. That’s definitely a good reason to air council meetings.
Broadcasting council meetings would be a convenience for many people unable to attend such meetings in person. Council meetings begin at 4:30 p.m., meaning some people cannot attend the early parts of those meetings because they are at work, commuting from work or commuting to work. Airing videotapes of those meetings several times and at different times after they have been conducted will provide people opportunities to see the council in action.
If financially feasible, the city — or some other entity — should conduct its business in front of cameras and microphones. It would be good for city residents. It would be good for the council.