Page images
PDF
EPUB

Democracy requires regular communication between citizens and their elected representatives. "The Pilgrim Fathers came face to face with their public servants in town meetings. President Lincoln put aside time twice a week to talk to workers, farmers, businessmen, housewives. Even professorial Woodrow Wilson once sighed, “I would rather hear what men are talking about on trains and in the shops and by the firesides than hear anything else, because I want guidance and I know I would get it there."

Were Congress broadcast, legislators would be more apt to follow the people's will rather than greedy, vocal pressure groups. Opinion polls show that ordinary folk often are years ahead of Washington in their thinking. Long before Congress adopted such measures, Americans favored war preparedness, price control, payas-you-go taxation. Three years before Pearl Harbor, a Gallup poll found that most Americans wanted to stop shipping scrap iron to Japan.

Senator Claude Pepper, who introduced the bill to put Congress on the air, aptly points out: “It's the people's business we're transacting, and they have a right to know what is going on. If we fail to broadcast our proceedings and keep in step with the times, our citizens may wonder if we're afraid to let them hear what we're saying. * * * We provide galleries for people to come and hear Congress. Why shouldn't the millions who can't come also be able to listen in?''

The Pepper bill would allow any commercial station or network to send over the waves all or part of Congress' proceedings either as a live or canned broadcast. Complete transcriptions would be made of all debates, which stations could buy at cost. Pepper adds: “Press and radio reports about Congress are often fragmentary and strongly biased. Uncensored broadcasts would serve as a check on those newspapers which delete or distort the news.”

The press has a defender in Senator Tom Connally, of Texas. He opposes legislative broadcasts because they "would take away the dignity and solemnity of the Senate." Actually, that dignity and solemnity is perhaps the greatest obstacle to broadcasting Congress. The haughty upper Chamber, where many Senators still walk in the shadow of Webster, Clay, and Calhoun, has been far more hostile to the proposal than the often more democratic House. For example, Ohio's Senator Bricker dismisses the Pepper bill as a silly idea. But Representative George Bender, Ohio's largest vote getter, declares: “Broadcasting Congress would give more Americans a chance to participate in democracy.'

Strongest Senatorial objection to broadcasting Congress is behind the scenes. Last year members of the Streamlining Congress Committee recommended a weekly broadcast: when the idea was frowned on by Maine's influential Wallace White (now majority leader), the recommendation was dropped.

Outwardly, Senators offer various arguments against being aired. Some fear their privacy of conversation would be jeopardized (though a simple seat switch could disconnect any individual microphone). North Carolina's Clyde Hoey says, “Broadcasting us would only increase conversation. We need more actionless talk." Rhode Island's Theodore Green adds, “If the Senate were broadcast, it would never do any work."

There are dissenters, of course. Wisconsin's Senator Alexander Wiley, Judiciary Committee chairman, asserts: "Every means to give the American people a closer understanding of their National Legislature is worth trying. I have often recommended that the Congressional Record be modernized and put on sale on American newsstands. This suggestion could go hand in hand with broadcasting limited sessions of Congress."

Kansas' Arthur Capper, 82-year-old Senate veteran, adds: “I've witnessed a lot of changes in my time and there's no reason why some day people shouldn't be able to hear and see Congress broadcast. Any proposal that will give people more information about their Representatives ought to be encouraged.”

Despite this, the United States Senate in many ways still is back in the gaslit era. Lacking even a public-address system, upper-chamber acoustics are so atrocious that it is difficult to hear the near-whispers of aged Senators. Others, too proud to wear hearing aids, also are at a disadvantage. Obviously microphones ought to be placed behind Senators' desks to help them hear what colleagues are saying. Idaho's Glen Taylor concurs: “Broadcasting Congress is an excellent idea, but even before we get around to it, we ought to fix it so that we can hear what's going on ourselves."

The House of Representatives already boasts seven microphones, including one each for the Speaker, the majority and minority leaders, and the roll-call clerk. An operator in the gallery controls voice volume. Lacking the senatorial filibustering privilege, Representatives are jealous of the time allotted them. This prompts Clare Hoffman, of Michigan, to observe, “If we put Congress on the air, we ought

to put it all on or not at all. Otherwise, we wouldn't be giving people back home a true picture."

Broadcasting complete proceedings would bring greater recognition to the hardworking Congressman now hiding his light under a bushel. Tennessee's Democrat Estes Kefauver avers, “If we were on the air, public indignation and enthusiasm would be multiplied, a healthy sign in a democracy."

Actually, a few congressional events now do go on the air. Recently Americans heard the first live broadcast of a congressional committee's proceedings when two networks caught Under Secretary of State Dean Acheson testifying on the GreekTurkish loan. Since last year some radio stations have been recording, editing, and then rebroadcasting important Washington happenings. Ex-Secretary Ickes' last press conference from the Interior Department was wire-recorded; so was the Bilbo cross-examination before the Senate War Investigating Committee.

Despite these preliminary successes, radio officials entertain misgivings about airing 96 Senators and 435 Representatives regularly. They fear it would accentuate the ham rather than the statesman, and bore or disillusion the public. One radio man complains, “Congress would be too highbrow for our gum-chewing audience.Another warns, "The blabbermouths would have a field day at the expense of the less articulate." Yet Nathan Straus, president of WMCA in New York, declares, "Radio can perform no greater service than to bring into every American home the deliberations of those who make our laws."

What really disturbs radio most is that Congress on the air would have to be a "sustaining” program. Instead of a lucractive advertiser, the people—who elect the program's participants-would be the sponsor.

Some legislators resent this general attitude rather strongly. Says Oklahoma's Representative Mike Monroney, “I think it is rather pathetic that the United States Congress, in discussing an important issue, must beg for time to reach the people of this country and then be allocated time at 11:15 at night." Adds ex-Representative John Coffee, of Washington, "The airways, after all, are public domain.'”.

Some suggest that Congress run its own broadcasting set-up, with plants on the east and west coasts for short wave. Twelve frequencies would be needed. Engineers estimate it would cost $800,000 annually to operate two congressional station-one for the Senate and one for the House. Two million dollars would be required to install the equipment.

A Government-owned station has been the answer in New Zealand, only country now broadcasting complete legislative sessions. Ever since the Labor Party came to power a dozen years ago, New Zealand has been airing its parliamentary proceedings over a 60,000-watt government station in Wellington. Legislators can be heard from 2:30 to 11 p. m. daily; not allowed to read speeches over the air, they make debate snappy and extemporaneous. During popular listening hours, equal time is given to both parties.

Two years ago Canada's prairie province of Saskatchewan also began broadcasting part of its legislative proceedings from Regina, the capital. Radio time, purchased from a local station, is allotted to parties on the basis of their representation. A government publication reports that "public reaction has been enthusiastic beyond our fondest hopes.”

In the United States, Connecticut has experimented in airing its public servants. Thanks to the new radio room in the State Capitol, Nutmeg voters get full reports on legislative debate and hearings from their representatives' own lips. These State-sponsored broadcasts are worked out in cooperation with Connecticut's 15 radio stations.

City-government proceedings have been broadcast in Buffalo and Toledo. But the most successful municipal experiment was in airing the New York City Council between 1938 and 1940. Broadcast by city-owned WNYC, the program won a listening audience of over a million and made the average New Yorker far more civic-minded. Sad to say, ward-heeling Tammanyites finally voted themselves off the air so they could carry on in comparative privacy.

Today Americans are Congress-conscious and information-hungry. Many would applaud the opinion of Dr. George Galloway, staff director of the Reorganizing Congress Committee: "It seems only a question of time before Congress will use radio and television as channels of direct communication with the electorate.” The main objections seem to come from Congress itself. In the last analysis, if you want Congress broadcast-and want it hard enough-you'll get it.

Senator PEPPER. These articles show, for example, that Saskatchewan, Canada, has purchased time from local stations for each

party in the Provincial legislature according to their representation, that the State of Connecticut has sponsored the broadcast of the debate in the State legislature in which 15 Connecticut stations participated, that the cities of Buffalo; Toledo, Ohio; New York City have broadcast the proceedings of their city councils.

Mr. Chairman, I believe that this bill should be approved by this committee for the following reasons:

A democracy requires as much communication between its citizens and their elected representatives as possible.

At the present time, there is no existing method of providing the average citizen with full information about the events in Congress. Press and radio reports are often too fragmentary and sketchy to be fully informative. This is no fault of the press or the radio stations. They have only limited space and time. However, sometimes the coverage is selective and biased and not fully informative. I recall during the railroad and coal controversies, the press generally—this is not all of the press-did not carry the real reasons for these disputes; namely, wages and hours, and on the floor of the Senate during the debate on those subjects in 1946, I called the attention of the Senate to this situation.

While all the people have a right to know what is going on in the Congress, only a select few who happen to be in the galleries and in the hearing rooms of the Congress in Washington have the opportunity to listen to the debates and hearings.

It will lead to a more intelligent interchange of opinion on public matters. This bill would educate, enlighten, and inform the people, and thus provide a more responsive and responsible electorate, improve the quality of congressional debate and eventually lead to an improvement in the composition of the Congress.

Mr. Chairman, the staff director of the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress in his book, “Congress at the Crossroads," November 1946, pointed out the desirability of approving a program such as that contemplated in my bill. He is Dr. Galloway, who rendered such invaluable service to the joint committee as its staff director.

He said that it would take about $800,000 a year to operate two short-wave stations and it has also been estimated that it would take about $2,000,000 to construct these stations. I am assured by technicians that this program is technically feasible without disturbing or causing any great inconveniences to the Congress. Mr. Chairman, the people of America have the right to hear the full proceedings of Congress if they cannot be in the galleries. With these small expenditures, the drama of Congress would be brought directly to the people we represent. For in this type of citizen participation lies the strength of a living democracy.

The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, Senator Pepper.

Do you think that if the proceedings of the Congress were broadcast, there would be better compliance with the rule requiring each Member to address the chair before entering into a discussion, and in that way getting his own name before the listening public.

Senator PEPPER. No doubt, Mr. Chairman, that would be true, because I think everyone would realize, as we do when we are on the air, a greater degree of audience and a greater degree of responsibility on the part of those who are addressing the audience for their conduct. Senator O'CONOR. Senator Pepper, I might say in support of your contention, which was so very splendidly expressed here, that recently in Baltimore, the legislative branch of the municipal government inaugurated this, and it had a very salutary effect. It has been felt definitely that the public has taken much more of an interest in its deliberations and, I might say parenthetically, I think it has also added to the attendance of the members, Senator Aiken. However, it has had generally a very salutary effect and has been considered very helpful.

Senator PEPPER. Thank you, Senator. That has been the testimony of every public body or agency that I have heard of which has experimented with it.

Now there are some who feel that the public might not understand the atmosphere and the background against which debate and discussion occurs, and others think there would be an effort on the part of some who are seeking special publicity and special notice from the public to try to hog the time, as it were. Well, there would be a tendency for the latter to occur if you just broadcast a certain amount of the proceedings, say, from 11 to 12 or 12 to 2. We are all human enough to want to get an audience and have our people hear us back home in the district or State. However, if you broadcast the proceedings for the whole day, a Member's colleagues will not let him hog all the proceedings. The business of the body has got to go on, and as we would become accustomed to it, I think it would more or less be treated as we treat the gallery. They are there, but the Senators and Representatives, I think, don't pay a great deal of attention to how many visitors there are in the gallery normally. You become accustomed to it and go on in the regular and normal way.

I might say this: The suggestion that was thought the most feasible by Dr. Galloway and me was to have microphones suspended up in the air. You wouldn't have the microphones right where you would have a consciousness of having to speak right into them. They would be suspended up above you, and the distribution would be such as to cover the whole Chamber, and there would be a man that would control the volume. If a Senator wasn't speaking loud enough, why, the man at the controls would turn the volume up. It would be carried pretty much the way they do in the making of sound pictures, where the microphone is out of sight of the audience. It is suspended up above. The idea is that you could walk around and have the same freedom of movement by that system that you would have normally, because you would always be within range of some of the microphones that were suspended over the head of the speaker. So that in every way it would seem to be completely feasible for the debate to go without even a great consciousness that it was going out over the radio.

Now this would supplement the present radio commentator system and the present broadcasts. As you know, the radio systems are beginning to broadcast more and more congressional proceedings, and it would supplement the press, because they can't carry it except the high lights.

Senator Thys. I wonder if I may interrupt. Why wouldn't it be possible, if such a broadcast was made of the Senate procedure, to bave it taken by the regular existing radio stations? If the listerners then cared to take up a soap program or any other type of program, it would be at their own pleasure, but if they desired to come in on the Senate body and its deliberations during the session, all they would have to do would be to tune in on the proper station and then they would have the regular procedure. That broadcast of Senate proceedings would be available to any radio station that desired to make its regular connections with the Senate Chamber. In that way, you would not have your Federal Government venturing into a certain function under a different wave length from other radio stations in the United States.

Senator PEPPER. Senator, my bill cortemplates both systems. Now you recall that I said it contemplates that radio and television stations would be authorized to broadcast proceedings unless either body or the individual committee ordered otherwise, and that the Architect of the Capitol shall set up arrangements to record all discussion and debate in both Houses of the Congress and committee bearings which are to be made available to broadcasting stations who might wish to use them. Obviously, they would have to select the part that they were going to broadcast. They have limited time. They might take 15 minutes or they might take 30 minutes or they might even take an hour. You would hardly expect them to carry more than an hour. Well, obviously, they may have to do just what the commentator has to do now and what the paper has to do now crowd into 15 minutes or 10 minutes a summary or just a brief excerpt of what occurred, which, of course, is just a fragmentary part of the whole, or in the case of the press, to crowd the proceedings of a whole day into a column or two in the paper, or at best a few columns.

Now my bill contemplates both methods, first the broadcasting and recording and the making available at cost copies of those recordings to the radio stations, and letting them use whatever they wish to use; that is their business. But the other would be the Government, and the Government would not be doing this commercially. The Government would only be broadcasting the way the Congressional Record, you might say, records and to a degree "broadcasts” actually what goes on in there for good or bad.

The Government would broadcast at an annual expense, it is estimated, of about $800,000. I don't know how much the Record costs the Government at the present time, and there would be an original cost of about $2,000,000 to build the facilities. It would not interfere with our commercial-broadcasting arrangement or the normal standard broadcasting. It would simply supplement what they do by putting the whole proceedings on this short-wave radio, so that if any citizen of this country or anybody else within the range of that broadcast wanted to turn on and hear what is being said in the Senate on a day when something is of interest to him or her, or when he wants to see what they are doing in the House, why, he should have the privilege to do so.

Now let's take our committee hearings. A little while ago, we had up the Marshall plan. Well, obviously that is of great importancegreat importance to the American people. Every hearing room is generally crowded with spectators trying to get in to hear General Marshall or to hear a man of note and authority who has come to talk about these vital issues. We have all seen our committee rooms just stacked and jammed with people trying to get in to hear a matter

« PreviousContinue »