There’s no good reason to shut down webcasting

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Heath Haussamen

But senators may be headed toward trying to stop the governor’s webcasting, even though she has every right to do it

The state’s Inspection of Public Records Act makes it illegal to ask someone who is requesting public records why they want to see the documents.

That’s because they’re records that belong to the public. The reason a member of the public wants to inspect them is none of the government’s business.

Similarly, the reason someone wants to photograph or film a public meeting of a legislative committee should be none of the government’s business.

Try telling that to the New Mexico Senate.

In response to Gov. Susana Martinez’s webcasting and archiving of committee meetings – which she’s using as part of a heavy lobbying effort – the vast majority of senators on Wednesday approved a new resolution requiring permission from the chair and ranking member to film, transmit or photograph a committee meeting.

That essentially means you have to justify yourself.

The resolution was sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Jennings, D-Roswell. It passed on a vote of 35-3.

Singled out

Thursday morning, framed signs announcing the new rule appeared outside each Senate committee room.

“Use of any filming or photography device while committee is in session must be cleared with the committee chair,” the sign states. Then, in smaller letters, “Does not apply to the news media.”

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As I pointed my camera at the Senate Finance Committee chairman, John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, he stopped a hearing to ask me, in front of dozens of people, to identify myself. He asked the ranking member, Sue Wilson Beffort, R-Sandia Park, if was OK with her that I photograph. I don’t remember the exact wording, but she essentially asked why I was there.

Smith explained that I run a prominent blog. Beffort deferred to Smith, and he told me it was OK to photograph.

Someone not used to being singled out by lawmakers, such as a citizen visiting the Roundhouse and trying to take a photo with a camera phone, might have felt intimidated. Because of that, he might not try to take another photograph in the Roundhouse, even though it’s a building that belongs to him.

And that’s the problem. It’s like the U.S. Border Patrol asking at checkpoints where you’re going. The answer most people don’t have the chutzpah to give is that it’s none of their business. They have a right to ask if you’re an American citizen, but the government has absolutely no business knowing where you’re going.

Just as the government has no business asking someone why they want to see a public record. If it were legal to ask, the implication would be that some reasons would be valid grounds for allowing inspection, and others would not.

None of the government’s business

Similarly, there should be no motive for photographing or filming a meeting that senators can use to reject the attempt. Simply put, the motive is none of the government’s business.

But the new Senate rule seems to allow the committee chair and ranking member to judge motives for photographing or filming a public meeting in a public building and decide whether to shut it down. And senators aren’t the only ones to think this is appropriate.

The House has had a rule in place for years stating that no photography or recording is allowed without permission of the committee chair. But it’s never been enforced, at least with me, even though there are some chairs who definitely didn’t want me pointing my camera at them.

There’s a similarly inappropriate message placed on the Legislature’s webcasting page: “Any political use of this stream is prohibited.”

Come on. The video and audio streams of public meetings are owned by the public. People can do whatever they want with them. The rule that forbids political use could really only be used by the Legislature to censure one of its own members for breaking it.

Anyone is entitled to record and webcast public meetings

Which brings us back to the governor. She is recording and webcasting video of meetings anyone is entitled to record and webcast.

I understand why some lawmakers don’t like it. Martinez’s webcasting is certainly combative.

In some instances she’s posting video only of the arguments made by those on her side. And she’s using the webcasting as part of a forceful effort to lobby that has also included radio ads, robocalls, and hundreds of phone calls to Democratic members from around the state.

But it will be a real shame if lawmakers respond by trying to stop the governor’s webcasting, just like it was a shame that I was quizzed about why I wanted to photograph a public meeting.

Whether it’s me photographing a committee meeting for journalistic reasons, Martinez webcasting it for lobbying and/or political reasons, or some kid taking a photo with a camera phone to document a trip to the state capitol building, we’re supposed to not only allow such rights, but cherish them.

Other nations have been in the news lately for censoring the media and the public, but this is America.

Transparency and accessibility are good for all

If lawmakers don’t like the governor’s webcasting and archiving, there’s a simple solution: Webcast audio and video of all floor sessions and committee meetings and archive all of it yourselves.

Expand the official webcasting program to all legislative meetings, and archive it online. It’s the right thing to do – and I’m guessing the governor won’t have staffers duplicate your work.

And please, get rid of these ridiculous rules that allow lawmakers to shut down documentation of public meetings based on a person’s reason for wanting to document. Senators, this isn’t the appropriate response to Martinez’s webcasting.

It’s also time for Martinez to lead by example. She’s forcing archiving on the Legislature, and that’s great. But she should also be webcasting and archiving at least some meetings of executive branch boards and commissions.

Perhaps start with the State Investment Council and State Transportation Commission. Those are two public bodies under Martinez’s control that deal with a lot of money. It’s important to make their meetings more accessible too.

What’s good for one branch of government is good for all. Transparency and accessibility – two cornerstones of a healthy democracy – are certainly good for all. That includes you, legislators, and you, governor. Let’s see it.

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14 thoughts on “There’s no good reason to shut down webcasting

  1. Now demrep, you’re being unfair… according to today’s Journal, UNM isn’t always taking them to Rio Chama.

    Instead they held a nice big booze up for them at the Harwood Museum in Taos first, then went to Rio Chama.

    I know lobbying costs money; indeed, for the sake of the University students, I don’t even really mind tax money going towards it. However, $5,700+ seems an awful lot of money for such remarkably pathetic results, particularly when over 78% of that went to alcohol to create what President Schmidly refers to as a “relaxed environment”. If tuition weren’t climbing at unconscionable rates and academic budgets weren’t the first things being cut, maybe I’d be willing to accept the amount (if not the individual expenditures), but since the current and previous two permanent administrations seem to have funneled a larger and larger percentage of the University’s decreasing funds towards athletics and salaries for an increasingly-bloated upper administration, I think we can safely say that the results are… unacceptable.

  2. Legislataors don’t want their sessions to be recorded because most of them don’t have a clue what’s going on and are incomprehensible when they speak. Oh, and the others are asleep in their chair after a grand night of boozing it up at the Rio Chama at the expense of special interest lobbyists like those for UNM. In the case of UNM, I guess that would be our (taxpayer) expense. Time for term limits.

  3. I agree completely. Thank you for your service to ensure we keep transparency open, especially in the Legislature. There should be no restriction of cameras, even in the chambers.

    I have some heartburn I want to share. I read today that the The Albuquerque Journal won a lawsuit because of NMDOT’s lack of cooperation regarding records involving Speaker Ben Lujan’s billboard. I totally understand the need for the lawsuit, and I am very happy the Journal received the judgment. But this ordeal is costing taxpayers thousands, and this is unacceptable. I propose the Journal pay off any legal fees accrued from the lawsuit, because this is fair. ANY profits, or funds left over after all debts paid should be either paid back to state coffers, or donated to charity. IMMEDIATELY. We all need to set examples, and show we are all willing to do what’s right.

  4. ADD to my previous comment regarding term limits:

    I mean, look at the legislators who tried to stick it to Heath….Sen. John Arthur Smith(22 years in the legislature) and Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort(14 years).

    It’s time to have a true citizen legislature comprised of everyday New Mexicans with different backgrounds and motivations to be an elected state legislator. Adding a salary and making the job full time and year round would help curtail the influence of lobbyist contributions as well.

  5. Yet another argument for term limits and further justification to add a constitutional amendment to the ballot that will let the voters approve or disapprove a maximum of 4 two year terms for house members and 2 four year terms for senators.

    Can any of you NM Consitutional scholars out there enlighten us as to the process to get this going? Presumably, this is something a legislator has to introduce via legislation If so, it’s gonna have to be one of the newly elected freshmen to lead the charge.

  6. I agree with your suggestion that the Legislature should record all their own meetings and make them available in an archive.

    Great commentary.

  7. Interesting article, thanks for writing it!

    This line was interesting:

    If lawmakers don’t like the governor’s webcasting and archiving, there’s a simple solution: Webcast audio and video of all floor sessions and committee meetings and archive all of it yourselves.

    Working for a company that (among other things) helps local governments record their public meetings and put them online, that argument is not new to me, but I think it’s key for elected officials to realize. If the government has video for the entire meeting, if someone does take a quote (in a video or not) out of context, the elected officials can show the context in which it happened. So it actually could potentially HELP them.

    Think of the power of using video to correct what someone’s false/misleading claim is.

  8. This ludirous rule and how it violates of our rights to know and document what our elected officials are up to, is beyond the pale. This just confirms the arrogance and power-hungry egos these people possess. This has to be stopped, and who are “the news media” , who defines and decides, and why are they allowed to tape and photograph, but citizens are not?? This is irrational. They are obviously afraid of letting people see their sausage making and their words and gestures during same. I can only think they know how uninformed, inarticulate, and ignorant they will appear in these committee meetings and don’t want any records of it. I say violate it and ask to be arrested or held in contempt, take it to court and seize some money from their precious state budget in settlements.

  9. Tim Jennings must be afraid he will show his true colors under the camera. He and the other 35 who supported this action have no sense of public accountability and should all be replaced.

  10. If all legislative committee and floor actions were documented AND archived, folks who received Martinez’ biased, censored recordings would be able to check the official records and catch her in the act. The kind of legislation that should be considered would require the BROADCASTING of any recorded proceedings to be identifed by the date, time, committee hearing, and person speaking…

  11. Excellent work Heath.

    This nonsense of abuse of power will go away when The People stop referring to govt employees as leaders or authorities and only recognize them for what they are — SERVANTs.

  12. What is the New Mexico Senate going to do next…only allow citizens to come to the capital after hours when nobody’s there? What, only lobbyists and retirees who don’t mind wasting days on in milling around at the Capital are allowed to observe a committee hearing? What’s the Senate trying to hide from the vast majority who have lives beyond that of a political groupie? Thank you Heath, for keeping us informed. Jennings and his cohorts are nuts if they think citizens need to explain and otherwise beg their permission to record a public taxpayer-funded committee hearing. Outrageous!

  13. Heath,
    There is more news on your website than is reported on the nightly crime and weather of “news media”

    Sadly the “Macaca” moment of 2006 by George Allen has made political trackers even more valuable. But they should not confuse politically motivated video taping with transparency.