State public affairs television networks, commonly referred to as "state C-SPANS," recently got a boost from the Federal Communications Commission's Working Group on the Information Needs of Communities. It issued a new report “addressing the rapidly changing media landscape in a broadband age.”
Paying particular attention to the report was NAPAN, the National Association of Public Affairs Networks, which are the state public affairs television networks in the states. (Note: NCSL supports and occasionally provides assistance to NAPAN.) We asked Paul Giguere, president of NAPAN, to comment on the findings.
The Thicket. The report appears to support your organization’s mission of establishing state public affairs networks in each state. Do you believe the report will result in more states creating television networks?
Giguere. (pictured right) I think the report will help pave the way both for more networks being established and for existing networks to have an easier time to expand, innovate and realize their vision for themselves. Let’s look at the state of the art: 23 out of 50 states currently have some variety of state public affairs programming initiative, but only a handful of those are fully realized, 24/7 networks with stable funding, a diverse programming lineup and distribution across multiple video platforms. Even the most robust and long-established networks are constantly challenged to prevent changes in the economy and video service industries from eroding what they’ve been able to accomplish to date while continuing to move forward. After years of trying to gain a foothold one state at a time, a report like this stimulates a national conversation about the need for professional, noncommercial public affairs programming. All of us at NAPAN hope that becomes the rising tide that will lift boats in all 50 states.
The Thicket. The report focuses on how news and important information is delivered to the public, particularly to local communities. What are the primary concerns in the way people are currently receiving news and what changes do they suggest need to be made?
Giguere. A major finding is that the current state of media has exploded the options for consuming news, but left us with less news overall to consume. Huge contractions in newspaper staffs across the country have translated into less enterprise reporting taking place with whole sectors of reporting vanishing altogether, especially on the local level. And reporting by television news and other media sources have not been able to fill the void. Statehouse reporting was a particular sector of concern, which is why the FCC stressed so heavily its support of the kind of primary-source material dissemination that state public affairs networks provide on state government and public policy.
The Thicket. What areas of the report do you think should capture the notice of state policymakers?
Giguere. Certainly I would draw their attention to the FCC report’s recommendation that, “Every state should have a state public affairs network similar to C-SPAN.” This is crafted in a way that encourages individual states to develop models that meet their governments’ and citizens’ unique needs. I should point out that NAPAN endorses a set of best practices that already work across a wide variety of network organizations. The report suggests some possible strategies for funding and carriage (including a refreshing reinterpretation of community access eligibility) that are worth exploring by policymakers interested in seeing a public affairs network develop in their state. But, to reiterate, the most important point that this report makes is that quality state public affairs programming in the tradition of C-SPAN is vital to our national interest and its development should be aggressively pursued in all 50 states. It’s largely left to the states and their own sovereign authority to figure out how best to achieve that.