- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 20, 2006

In her victory speech at a Democratic rally the day after her party captured control of the House, then-House Minority Leader and now-Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi repeated a promise she had made throughout the campaign. “The Democrats intend the most honest, most open and most ethical Congress in history,” she said to cheers and applause. As recently as Thursday, Dec. 14, Mrs. Pelosi pledged to use “the first 100 hours of the new Congress” to ensure “the most honest and open Congress in history.”

On that very same day last week, in the spirit of openness, C-SPAN Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Brian Lamb wrote a letter to Mrs. Pelosi. Mr. Lamb made two requests. First, noting that television cameras in the House chamber have operated under the control of the Speaker since C-SPAN began televising House proceedings in 1979, Mr. Lamb sought permission for C-SPAN to use its own cameras. Second, he asked Mrs. Pelosi to “release individual House votes electronically immediately after voting periods have closed.”

One big reason why Mr. Lamb wants to use C-SPAN cameras relates to the fact that congressional technicians now operating the House cameras are “limited to taking static, head-on shots of the representative who’s speaking at the podium” during debates. Because congressional cameras cannot pan the chamber during House debates, C-SPAN viewers cannot see the reaction shots of members or the floor-lobbying tactics that are witnessed by anybody watching the debate from the gallery.

Interestingly, in the very first House speech ever televised by C-SPAN, Rep. Al Gore declared on March 19, 1979: “When the House becomes comfortable with the changes brought by television coverage, the news media will be allowed to bring their own cameras into this chamber.” Nearly 30 years later such reasonable speculation has yet to become reality. It may be that the House leadership has institutional reasons for maintaining a government monopoly over the cameras. (The speaker-designate’s office and the office of the incoming minority leader did not return our phone calls before deadline; but we shall be following up after the holidays.) At a minimum, however, Mrs. Pelosi should instruct the congressional technicians now operating the cameras to give C-SPAN viewers a wide-ranging selection of shots throughout the House chamber during debates. After Speaker Newt Gingrich gave the cameras of C-SPAN and other independent media full access to virtually all hearings and mark-ups 12 years ago, the next logical step is to give C-SPAN viewers access to the entire House chamber during the debates over the product of those hearings.

Even more straightforward is the issue of C-SPAN’s immediate access to the results of votes cast electronically on the House floor. It is simply incomprehensible why television viewers of these proceedings should have to wait long after the votes were cast to learn how individual members voted. An electronic tally board gives visitors in the House gallery real-time access to this information. Moreover, C-SPAN viewers of Senate proceedings know exactly how senators vote the moment they declare “aye” or “nay.”

Six years into the 21st century is already way too long for C-SPAN viewers to wait before they can witness the floor activity during House debates and before they can quickly learn how their representatives voted. Approving these changes should be the easiest campaign promise for Speaker-designate Pelosi to keep.

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