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It’s Lights Out For The Nonprofit Operator of CT-N

by | Nov 2, 2017 10:24pm
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Posted to: Media Matters, State Budget, State Capitol, Transparency

HARTFORD, CT — After a few tense days of back-and-forth negotiations, the nonprofit Connecticut Public Affairs Network (CPAN) said it will cease operations of the Connecticut Television Network at 5 p.m. Friday.

In a letter to the Office of Legislative Management, Paul Giguere, president and CEO of CPAN, said the nonprofit that has operated the network since its inception in 1999 can’t continue to operate with the drastic reduction in funding and elimination of editorial control.

“The 15 percent planned reduction in our operating budget was an eventuality we prepared for and were ready to accommodate. This sudden 65 percent reduction is simply unworkable,” Giguere wrote.

CT-N had been operating this year with a $2.7 million budget, down from $3.2 million. A new contract was supposed to be for $2.4 million, but as part of the bipartisan budget it ended up being funded at $1.2 million. When the contract expired on Oct. 31, the two sides agreed to a per diem rate as negotiations continued.

But it wasn’t only a funding issue that motivated the decision to cease operations.

Giguere points out that the documents establishing CPAN and the network were broad.

“CPAN was created with a nonpartisan, educational mission to run CT-N as a three-branches network, at arms’ length from the government,” Giguere said. “It was a mission and purpose once supported by the Leadership of the General Assembly ... The thinking has clearly changed.”

The network has been providing not only video coverage of many events, but that coverage is also stored as a searchable archive of public policy decision making. The videos are often used to ascertain legislative intent when a law is challenged in court.

House Republican Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said the threat that they would cease operations at 5 p.m. serves no purpose.

“It ignores the fiscal realities that all other state-funded agencies have to deal with, and that is, we do not have the resources to continue business as usual,” Klarides said. “For CT-N to put forth this ultimatum that puts jobs at risk while we are attempting, in good faith, to resolve these complex matters as we deal with the state’s ongoing state’s fiscal crisis is irresponsible.”

She said the coverage of public events in the General Assembly will continue regardless of what happens with these negotiations.

The new contract attempts to limit coverage of the other branches of government and any events outside the Legislative Office Building and state Capitol. Over the year, the network had set up stationary cameras in the Connecticut Supreme Court to cover oral arguments and it covered press conferences by governors.

CT-N had already ended its weekly public affairs program and decided to cease coverage of events like the first day of the legislative session and political conventions.

While CPAN was the only bidder for the contract, there were other entities like the Connecticut Public Television Network that came to the bidders conference. It’s unclear if they would be interested in taking over the operations if negotiations with CPAN come to an end.

It’s unclear what Legislative Management has in store for the network.

“It’s their network. If they let it go dark it’s their decision,” William A. Bevacqua, CPAN’s vice president of communication and administration, said Thursday night.

The state of Connecticut owns all the equipment, the website, and licenses.

This is partly why CPAN was never able to go out and raise money from foundations or other sources, because it would have essentially been raising money for the state of Connecticut. There would have been no guarantee to any funders that their donations wouldn’t be swept into the general fund.

CPAN’s offer that was rejected would have given the nonprofit time to establish a public-private partnership to continue operating the network.

The network currently has 33 employees on staff. According to the network, a reduced budget of $1.2 million would mean reducing staff by two thirds, leaving about 11 staff, and cutting programming hours from 35 a week to 10. Most of the $1.2 million budget would be is eaten up by lease agreements on cable and other services required to operate the network.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We reported that $1.6 million was budgeted for CT-N, but in fact the $1.6 million figure was the “revenue intercept.” The actual budgeted figure was $1.2 million, and this story has been adjusted to reflect that.

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