As House members dragged themselves through vote after vote in the tussle over the speakership in the first week of January, viewers got a rare glimpse of the intense negotiations. Cameras captured shouts and whispers between representatives as well as images of Representative-elect George Santos, mired in controversy over his largely fabricated resume, staring at his phone alone on the House benches.
The cameras, controlled by C-SPAN during the negotiations, achieved an unusual and vastly improved level of transparency. Unfortunately, the end of the days-long tussle, in which Republican Kevin McCarthy was ultimately successful, meant a return to the status quo: The political party in charge of the House controls the cameras. C-SPAN was once again restricted to permanent robotic cameras trained at the speaker’s dais and podium.
Today, Freedom of the Press Foundation and the Demand Progress Education Fund, along with a coalition of more than 40 partners, including advocacy organizations and media outlets, submitted a joint letter calling for McCarthy and Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries to restore C-SPAN’s right to control its own cameras, along with the transparency that Americans enjoyed during the speakership negotiations.
“People on both sides of the aisle agree that it’s un-American for politicians to control news cameras,” said Seth Stern, FPF’s advocacy director. “Transparency is vital to our democracy and there is no reason for House rules to restrict the press and public from viewing the best possible footage of their representatives in action.”
Signatories to the letter include Lincoln Network, TechFreedom, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Free Press Action, the National Press Club, National Press Photographers Association, PEN America, and Project on Government Oversight.
“When C-SPAN is able to call its own shots, the American public benefits by getting an authentic and transparent view of how Congress functions and the mood of the chamber,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress Education Fund. “We can see what really happens on the House floor, such as unexpected bipartisan negotiations like when Reps. Ocasio-Cortez and Gosar had a one-on-one conversation during the speaker vote-a-rama.”