Public Access and Openness Is a Win-Win-Win

This November, Marin County residents will be asked to vote in six council elections, three district elections, and one mayoral election on top of eight ballot initiatives. There are 40 people running for 22 positions and there have been debates in most of the races. Not one is available online on-demand, and at least one wasn’t even recorded. This, in the most tech-savvy part of the country, is unacceptable.

Most debates happen during the work day, when a typical voter is at work with their nose to the grindstone. The first Novato council debate, for example, took place on a Friday morning, as did the first San Rafael mayoral debate. Night time debates often aren’t much better, scheduled early in the evening when most are still coming home.

The Community Media Center of Marin (CMCM) and Novato Public Access typically record events, but rather than put them on YouTube or their own sites, they keep them for pre-scheduled reruns online. If it’s already in a digital format, why lock it up?

Not only does this throw up an unnecessary barrier to voters but it makes life significantly more difficult for news outlets, especially blogs. As a blogger, I cannot embed, reference, cut up, sample or refer to specific bits of the debate without first creating my own recordings of their recordings, and the IJ and Patch can’t either. Instead, we reference the parts that we think are interesting in pieces about the debates, leaving readers’ interests by the wayside. If we want to quote someone’s debate answer after the reruns have stopped, we’re out of luck.

If debates were online, they could be used on any website at any time. Candidates could post video of their success and their opponent’s gaffe, TV and radio reporters could use the video on their shows without the expense of sending a news team, hosts get their logo everywhere the video is referenced, and voters get exposed to the voices and faces of people they wouldn’t otherwise think about. This could be a win for everyone.

Candidate debates are a vital part of the democratic process. They enable us to contrast competing perspectives, allow us to get a read on candidates’ knowledge, and serve as a proxy forum for the major issues of the day. In Marin, we are grappling major and contentious issues that will shape the county for decades: SMART, affordable housing, pension reform, and downtown revitalization. Knowing where our candidates stand informs the debate and informs the voter, so that everyone better knows where our County is going.