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Network cuts back Capitol broadcasting

Posted: Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Juneau's public broadcasting station KTOO-TV is trying to develop a new statewide C-SPAN-style statewide network, but some Juneau advocates worry it's at the expense of coverage of the Capitol.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Gavel to Gavel Alaska broadcasts daily events at the Capitol, formerly aired around-the-clock live coverage of happening and with reruns in the evenings and morning. Advocates of keeping the capital in Juneau argue that the network is a key way to inform Alaskans statewide about legislative happenings.

Gavel to Gavel coverage was formerly around the clock when the Legislature was in session. The new network, called 360 North, still broadcasts Gavel to Gavel with events at the capital live, but no longer replays the action in the evenings and early morning hours.

Avid Gavel-to-Gavel watchers such as Gov. Sarah Palin say they miss the programming during those times, even though the program is on in her office all day.

"That's how I'd catch up, watching the re-runs," Palin said.

The lack of evening replay of the day's activity has Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, worried for different reasons.

She's concerned that Alaskans elsewhere will lose their connection with the capital by not being able to watch replays of what the Legislature did during the day later in the evening.

Now, she said, those who can't watch during the workday won't get to see most of what goes on.

The city of Juneau pays about $255,000 of Gavel to Gavel's $550,000 operating cost for that very reason, to let the entire state see what the Legislature is doing.

The Alaska Committee's Win Gruening said his organization has heard concerns as well and is discussing recommendations to KTOO to ensure Alaskans have continued access to Gavel to Gavel's broadcasts of what goes on at the Capitol.

He called the broadcasts "absolutely critical" to the capital retention effort.

"I think technology is the answer to true access," he said.

"No matter where the capital is, some people won't be able to access it. But with technology, they will," Gruening said.

KTOO General Manager Bill Legere defended the new network, saying it could ultimately increase viewership of Gavel to Gavel.

The network, funded by a $211,841 grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, will keep Gavel to Gavel as its centerpiece, as it develops into a year-round public affairs network, according to Legere of KTOO.

"It's going to actually in the long run be beneficial to Alaskans, with a wide variety of public affairs programs," he said.

KTOO is the public face of Capital Community Broadcasting, the Juneau-based public broadcasting nonprofit with multiple radio and TV stations.

The new network will retain viewers to the cable channel even when the Legislature is not in session, Legere said.

"It'll increase viewership for Gavel to Gavel over time as well," he said.

360 North is a demonstration program at this point, he said. If it turns out they can develop and sustain the network, they'll try to develop a business plan to keep it going.

In addition to the legislative coverage, 360 North covers Alaska Permanent Fund board meetings, university speakers, state history, old documentary programs, Northwest Indian News and other programming.

In Juneau it is carried on GCI's Channel 18, and on the city's Channel 7 as well, he said. It is made available to all cable systems in Alaska, as well as satellite systems and streamed on the Internet.

Gruening said the Alaska Committee will make recommendations to Legere as well, but didn't know yet what they'd be.

"Whatever changes get made will be in the best interest of the state," he said.

Legere said it is only in recent years that Gavel to Gavel has had the capability to broadcast overnight. Before that, it went dark then anyway.

The national C-Span network, on which 360 North was modeled, doesn't do reruns either, Legere said.

"C-SPAN doesn't repeat," he said. "You get one shot at watching it live on C-SPAN."

For now, some Capitol watchers say they have their own way of dealing with the change. Harvey Marvin, an avid legislative observer, said he videotapes the programs during the day to watch in the evenings.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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