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A Public Affairs Network in Every State: FCC Report Gives Federal Weight to 50 States, 50 Networks Initiative

A Public Affairs Network in Every State:
FCC Report Gives Federal Weight to 50 States, 50 Networks Initiative

Washington, DC – The National Association of Public Affairs Networks (NAPAN) reaffirmed its support today for a nationwide state public affairs network initiative like the one recommended by the Federal Communications Commission in its “Future of Media” report. In fact, NAPAN has been working to advance its own vision of “50 States, 50 Networks” for the past several years. However, the initiative begins a new chapter – particularly in states where SPANs have yet to launch – with the weight of a federal recommendation behind it.

In its report, the FCC recommends the creation and nurturing of state public affairs networks – non-profit, noncommercial entities that provide C-SPAN-style coverage of state government and public policy – in all 50 states. The Commission has identified these networks as vital to government openness and transparency, particularly in light of contracting state house reporting by other forms of media.

Federal endorsement of the work done by SPANs drew swift praise from NAPAN representatives present at the report’s presentation. “The National Association and its constituent networks applaud the FCC’s recognition of the important role state networks play in ensuring the health of our democracy through citizen education and engagement,” said Paul Giguere, NAPAN President, and CEO of the Connecticut Network. “We look forward to working with the Commission, state governments and the video services industries nationwide to further explore ways of making ‘50 States, 50 Networks’ a reality and meeting each state’s unique needs in the process.”

NAPAN was founded in 2004 to provide startup and established networks alike with opportunities to share information and begin a national dialogue on fostering more open and accessible state governments. Through this process, a knowledge base of industry best practices began to emerge, and the association expanded its focus to encouraging the development of new networks in states where none existed, or where initiatives had languished.

“The core values of state public affairs programming can sustain great diversity in organizational and operational models, and we commend the FCC for recognizing that,” according to Chris Long, NAPAN Board member and President & CEO of WisconsinEye. “While many variations of SPAN already exist across the country, they are united by a set of best practices that exemplify commitment to making state government more transparent and citizen-accessible by delivering gavel-to-gavel, nonpartisan coverage of state government and public policy discussion. Since NAPAN’s founding, many other states have adopted these best practices to develop professional-quality, low-cost operations of their own; there is momentum there that can only benefit from the Commission’s recommendation.”

“Never before has there been such a strong statement that the services our networks provide are vital to the national interest,” said Greg Lane, board member and President of TVW in Washington state. “State public affairs networks provide that critical window for people to view the inner workings of their state governments directly. However, every network, whether new or well-established, must overcome the same two challenges – funding and distribution. The Commission has, in its report, started an important national conversation and we look forward to continuing the dialogue.”

“It is crucial to see state public affairs programming in the context of a larger educational framework, and in some states part of a broader range of services that their public television stations offer,” said Patrick Keating, board member and General Manager of The Florida Channel. “While a ‘state C-SPAN’ may strike some in the country as a new concept, its roots run deep in many states: particularly in states like Florida whose networks have their origins in public broadcasting. We hope that the FCC’s support of the trail that NAPAN’S member networks have blazed will help the Association’s vision of ‘50 States, 50 Networks’ finally become reality.”

In 2007, the National Conference of State Legislatures endorsed NAPAN’s efforts with a resolution that “supports and encourages the efforts of the National Association of Public Affairs Networks in its vision for the formation and expansion of a state public affairs network in each of the 50 states in the manner most appropriate for the individual state.”

The National Association of Public Affairs Networks has been conceived to help establish and expand in all 50 states noncommercial television networks devoted to providing citizens with fair, balanced, and unfiltered access to their state governments: to foster and nurture the institutions that will help create the informed electorate that will shape our democracy in the years to come. It is represented by networks from more than 20 states, including Alaska, Connecticut, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Washington and Wisconsin. For more information, visit www.napan.net.

2011 NAPAN Board of Directors

Paul Giguere (NAPAN President)
President & CEO
Connecticut Network (CT-N)
(860) 246-1553 x102

Patrick Keating
General Manager
The Florida Channel
(850) 487-3170 x304

William Legere
General Manager
Gavel-to-Gavel Alaska
(907) 586-1670

William Trevarthen
Executive Director
Michigan Government Television (MGTV)
(517) 335-7249

Greg Lane
TVW, Washington State
(360) 725-3999

Brian Lockman
Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN)
(717) 730-6000

Dan Shellenbarger
Executive Director
The Ohio Channel
(614) 466-3798

Tom Posey
Director, News & Public Affairs
South Carolina Channel
(803) 737-3200

Christopher Long
President & CEO
(608) 316-6850

A State Public Affairs Network Defined

A state public affairs network is a noncommercial multimedia entity primarily dedicated to fostering unbiased and unfiltered connections between citizens and their state government. They achieve these connections through combinations of gavel-to-gavel video coverage of government proceedings and complementary content that adds context or explains the public policy process at large, without adding editorial comment or analysis. These networks may be delivered to their constituent viewers through any variety of means (broadcast, cable, satellite, internet, etc.), with the conviction that every citizen has the inherent right to watch his or her government in action.

Anatomy of a State Public Affairs Network

While many variations exist in programming and operating models, this set of “Best Practices” can be drawn from the most effective strategies used by state public affairs networks from across the country:

  1. Accessible to all: 24/7 program offerings on a dedicated channel across multiple platforms – A state public affairs network is most effective in connecting citizens to state government when it is available full-time to the maximum number of citizens possible, including a robust online presence with strong searchable streaming and on-demand content, accessibility enhancements such as closed captioning for the hearing impaired and a permanent archive of all programming produced
  2. All three branches of government – A state public affairs network is most effective in connecting citizens to state government when it provides a nonpartisan, unbiased and unfiltered window on all official state business
  3. Operating at arm’s length – A state public affairs network is most effective in connecting citizens to state government when it is structured with an independent governing body using a set of agreed-upon operating guidelines to make programming and operational decisions free from political influence
  4. Citizen engagement – A state public affairs network is most effective in connecting citizens to state government when it seeks to demystify the process of governing by providing additional information and context through on-screen graphics, online reference materials and links to other resources
  5. Programming breadth – A state public affairs network is most effective in connecting citizens to state government when it provides a broad range of high-quality public affairs programming beyond gavel to gavel coverage of government proceedings, as well as official emergency information from appropriate state public safety agencies

Once established, a state public affairs network can diversify its programming to provide multiple “points of contact” for citizens with varying levels of knowledge about and interest in state government.

  1. Discussions and Highlights: Additional program segments that feature discussions of public policy issues and daily or weekly edited reviews of government activity
  2. Election coverage and newspaper editorial board interviews
  3. Remote public hearings, to facilitate interactivity between policy makers and citizens
  4. Civics Education: Development of content and outreach programs for teachers to aid in the instruction of state civics in schools

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