WATPA: FW: Privatizing Congressional Hearings (Slate)

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From: Norman J. Jacknis (norm@jacknis.com)
Date: Fri Jun 09 2000 - 21:53:28 EDT

As an organization with Public Access in its name, I thought you might be interested in this article. There are an increasing number of instances in which private companies are planning to act as intermediaties -- for a price -- between the public and its information.



Privatizing Congressional Hearings
Timothy Noah
Posted Wednesday, May 24, 2000, at 2:39 p.m. PT

Gary Ruskin, director of the Ralph Nader-affiliated Congressional Accountability Project [http://www.essential.org/orgs/CAP/CAP.html], a public-interest watchdog group, was incensed by a May 21 article
in the Washington Post spotlighting a new for-profit Web site called HearingRoom.com [http://hearingroom.com/index.html]. HearingRoom.com, which debuts June 12, will provide instantaneous access (via streaming text and audio) of all congressional hearings and whatever "markups" are conducted in public.

(A markup is a session in which a congressional committee amends, and then passes, or fails to pass, a particular bill. Once marked up, the bill proceeds either to another committee or to the House or Senate floor.)

The cost for this real-time service will be $1,000 per hearing; this will be discounted to $150 per hearing for bulk users. (If you're willing to wait a few hours, you can get the transcript, with audio links, for $500, and if you're willing to wait till the next day, you can get it for $250. These costs, too, will be discounted for bulk users.)

The excellent question Ruskin poses about all this is: Why should citizens have to fork over big bucks to find out what their government is up to? "Congressional hearings are public information," Ruskin wrote in a protest mass e-mail sent out yesterday. "We taxpayers paid for these hearings. We ought to be able to read them, on the Internet, for free."

Ruskin has been complaining for some time about the sizable gaps in ed as much as anyone else by the need to attend congressional hearings. In effect, the government will be paying a private company to find out what the government is doing.

In this digital era, it's preposterously cheap to get information out to great masses of people. The responsibility to do so should rest with the government, not with Web entrepreneurs.

You can find this article online at

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