November 16, 2017

Lawmaker says keep CT-N independent — or kill it

A legislator who helped create CT-N, the public affairs network that provides gavel-to-gavel coverage of the General Assembly, accused legislative leaders from the House floor Wednesday of turning the network into a staff-operated "political propaganda" instrument.

Rep. Robert Godfrey, D-Danbury, addressed the House at the end of a session, promising to file legislation that would restore a degree of programming independence to a state-owned channel that until recently was run by a private non-profit, the Connecticut Public Affairs Network.

"I intend to file legislation … to either restore it or do away with it," Godfrey said.

The Connecticut Public Affairs Network, also known as CPAN, operated CT-N from its inception in 1999 until Nov. 3, when it ceased operations after a fight with legislative leaders over programming independence and, more recently, a 50-percent budget cut.

"It's not about the money," Godfrey told CT Mirror. "It's about who decides what gets covered. That's what most disturbs me."

The Office of Legislative Management is now running the network with laid-off employees from CPAN. It is talking to potential private vendors to temporarily take over operations, with a plan to seek requests for proposals in the spring to determine who will run CT-N and under what form of governance.

It resumed coverage of events Monday. On Tuesday, it broadcast a session of the Senate and arguments before the Supreme Court in a gun liability case that has attracted national attention.

"The legislature doesn't need a propaganda station," Godfrey said. "What it needs is to be more transparent … and we need to cover all of state government, not just the part legislative staff chooses."

CT-N covers not only the legislature, but also meetings, press conferences and other functions involving the executive and judicial branches, as well as Connecticut's congressional delegation, political conventions, other campaign-related matters, and state study panels and policy workshops.

CPAN was the only entity that responded to an RFP for running the network earlier this year with an operating budget of $2.4 million, a cut of about $400,000. But the bipartisan budget passed last month unexpectedly forced another cut of 50 percent.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy offered to redirect up to $400,000 in resources from the Executive Branch to help support CT-N's operating and capital equipment needs.

"It's about control of content, and that's just wrong," said Godfrey, a deputy speaker and veteran member of the House who has served since 1989.

Legislative leaders responded afterward that there was no attempt to control CT-N's coverage. But they also noted frequently that the network's programming goes beyond its original charge.

"The charge of CT-N from the beginning was gavel-to-gavel" coverage of House and Senate sessions, committee hearings and public meetings, House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby said.

"We're providing the service and the transparency that the state of Connecticut asked for and the General Assembly wanted to do," said House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin.

"Not one leader in this building intended for CT-N to shut down," Klarides said, adding that all entities that rely on state budget resources have to be prepared to tighten their belts.

"If at some point there's an ability to expand, we will all sit down and discuss," Klarides added.

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