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Media Transparency: From Uploading Audio-Only to Live-Streaming Video

October 23, 2013
by Jacque Porte
IQM2 Sales & Marketing

The push for transparency is bringing city council, county committees, and school boards to the media sphere, but just how these agencies make this transition remains undefined. Administrators have their pick of a wide range of recording devices, from a fleet of camcorders recording different video perspectives to a single digital audio recorder in the center of a conference table.

Government agencies must comply with a host of transparency requirements, not the least of which is the Government-in-the-Sunshine Law, enacted in 1967, that guarantees openness in government and requires advanced notice to be given before public meetings take place.

Adherence can take a variety of forms. Some municipalities adhere more strictly to these stipulations while others take a more flexible interpretation, and school boards run the gamut from public meetings with every document available to attendees to unannounced meetings with separate full and private agendas.

To Live-Stream or Not to Live-Stream?

Media is just another aspect of the transparency debate. Administrators must decide whether they want to live-stream their media so that citizens can view meetings live on the web, or archive meetings for on-demand playback. Live-streaming is beneficial because staff can integrate message boards and social media to witness and even respond to public comments from their virtual audience, thus engaging a larger group of citizens who are unable to attend the meetings. Video can be accompanied by closed-captioning to assist the deaf, audio can be boosted for the hearing-impaired, and a new level of government accessibility can be brought to those with limited mobility.

But live-streaming brings concerns of inviting the internet population at large into council chambers and of the potential of hiring an extensive IT support staff to assist in uploading and monitoring streaming capabilities. Openness also brings security concerns, and live-streaming exacerbates these concerns by limiting the ability of administrators to censor private or security-related information. The availability of private information has sometimes led to internet vigilantism and public shaming of the individuals involved, leading some administrators to question the benefits of a completely open government. As a result, some legislators such as those in Jefferson City, Missouri have been working to exempt security-related documents from public disclosure.

Audio-Only or Audio/Video?

Municipalities must also determine whether to pursue an audio/video or audio-only solution. Video might at first seem the best option for a municipality seeking to comply with the Sunshine Law and for those seeking to create an audio solution to assist the visually-impaired and a video solution to assist the hearing-impaired. However, administrators have observed a noticeable difference in the behavior of council members and attendees after video cameras were installed in meeting rooms, leading to concerns that those present were—consciously or not—in effect “performing” for the benefit of the cameras.

Municipalities must have the ability to decide whether they want audio or video, a thousand-page public agenda packet or a two-page abbreviate agenda, or whether they want to live-stream their media or upload it when the meeting ends. Ultimately, flexibility is king, and the most successful plans are those that eliminate safety and security concerns while accommodating citizen appeals for transparency.

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