Editorial: Keep the cameras rolling

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 23, 2016

Let’s say this up front: This is not about gun control or partisan politics, it’s about freedom of information.

The Republican-led U.S. House’s decision on Wednesday to declare a recess, shutting off its camera feed to C-SPAN, during a protest by Democrats was shameful. The House-set policy has long been in effect to turn the cameras off during a recess, but the timing is highly suspect.

Despite how one may feel about the agenda of the Democrats’ sit-in, aimed at pushing gun control votes, the public had a right to see what was going on at the U.S. Capitol. However, the cameras sat unused from Wednesday morning until just after midnight Thursday, when the House called a last-minute session.

“C-SPAN, a cable and satellite network that provides continual coverage of House and Senate floor proceedings, does not control the cameras,” states a report from the Associated Press. “They’re run on authorization by legislative leaders.”

But Kudos to the nonprofit news channel for not taking the dead air lying down.

“Although the cameras were turned off Wednesday, lawmakers relied on social media to transmit video, using Facebook, Twitter and Periscope,” states the AP report. “C-SPAN broadcast live video streamed on Periscope and Facebook from lawmakers’ accounts.”

The move by C-SPAN was “unprecedented,” according to AP. It showcases one of the ways social media can be used positively to inform the public.

Accusations of bias are often lobbed at the media, but what makes C-SPAN different is the live stream. There is no relying on one person’s account of what happened. The viewer sees lawmakers working as it happens.

Lawmakers have denied C-SPAN the ability to install cameras the channel can independently operate.

The Republican leaders’ recess and blackout stymied the public’s ability to see what was happening during the protest. But, again, this is not a partisan problem. Democrats have also taken to blacking out the cameras when things didn’t go their way.

During a 2008 protest by Republicans to push for a vote on expanding oil and gas drilling, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, ordered the cameras turned off — and the lights and microphones. Unlike this time, there was no social media feed to continue live coverage, and the cameras stayed off for days as Republicans took the floor.

The work of our legislators is not always pretty or clear-cut — the AP reported that two legislators on opposite sides of the gun control issue nearly came to blows. It makes the legislators look bad, but the public votes on these people to represent them.

The rationale for the lawmakers’ decision to turn off the taxpayer-funded cameras during recess makes sense in not filming an empty room, but when it’s used to create a blackout of activity, that’s denying the public’s right to know what their representatives are doing.

Nothing going on in that room should be off limits to the public. Those cameras should stay on to ensure our elected officials are accountable for their actions.

A LaGrange Daily News editorial. Reach the LaGrange Daily News at 706-884-7311.