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TMCNet:  Legislative panel set to approve MPBN's 'ME-SPAN' channel

[December 12, 2012]

Legislative panel set to approve MPBN's 'ME-SPAN' channel

AUGUSTA, Dec 12, 2012 (Portland Press Herald - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Lawmakers are set to green-light a new digital television channel by Maine Public Broadcasting Network that will be devoted to coverage of the State House.

The MPBN State House Channel, informally dubbed "Me-Span," is modeled after the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network, or C-SPAN, that offers live coverage of U.S. Congress. MPBN will use existing closed-circuit audio and video feeds at the State House to broadcast sessions in both the House and Senate and committee hearings on legislation with significant state impact.

The network is planning a six-month pilot to test the efficacy and interest in the programming, which will be free and broadcast on one of MPBN's digital channels. Officials at MPBN say that the estimated $250,000 to $300,000 cost will be paid for by the network's 2013 operating budget, which is funded by private donations. Officials say that the pilot program will not receive any state subsidies.

The proposal is subject to approval by the Legislative Council, the Legislature's administrative arm that comprises 10 state lawmakers. Democratic lawmakers, who hold majorities in the House and Senate, control six seats, the Republicans four.

There appears to be bipartisan support for the proposal. Supporters say the new network fills a needed gap in State House coverage and will bring transparency to state policy-making. Executives at MPBN said that the channel is overdue given that many municipal meetings are carried on free cable access channels and C-SPAN coverage of Congress.

House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, who chairs the Legislative Council, said in a press statement that "MPBN's proposal already has strong bipartisan support from Republicans and the governor. It would be an area where we can find common ground to better serve Maine people." "I am often asked about what goes on in Augusta. This proposal is a direct connection from the State House into people's homes," said Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland. "This will allow for greater transparency and accountability between lawmakers and the people we serve." The Legislative Council will vote on the proposal Wednesday afternoon.

In its written proposal, MPBN said that the channel could go live as early as February. The channel will show up to five hours of live and recorded footage of State House proceedings each day during the legislative session.

Veteran State House journalist Mal Leary is slated to become the managing editor and director of the program. Leary, who runs the Capitol News Service, has been covering the State House for over 30 years.

___ (c)2012 the Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine) Visit the Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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