Lights, camera, (in)action

Keep the dial on Channel 6 this evening.

Democracy takes a small step forward at 6 p.m., when Mayor Darlene Kordonowy convenes the regular meeting of the Bainbridge Island City Council, and Bainbridge Island Broadcasting makes its debut live broadcast from City Hall.

For the history books, we would note that it’s not quite the community’s first foray into live television. We recall an election night about eight or nine years ago, when a hapless on-air personality from Northland Cable News (remember them?) and one of our local environmental activists huddled in the back of a panel truck outside the Commons, offering commentary as returns rolled in from Port Orchard.

But tonight is still something of a watershed, not least as a measure of the growth of community access television here. Leading up to this moment were lean years of nurturing by a handful of dedicated individuals using borrowed equipment and makeshift studio space. More recently, it took successful lobbying by BIB and its supporters for some earmarked public funding, and willingness by the city administration and ultimately the council to invest in local-access TV as a communication medium.

“Communication” is a mantra one hears a lot around the corridors of local government these days. The administration has made some strides with a revamped website; some council members, motivated by dissatisfaction with the spin of the local press, have launched various initiatives of their own, including the new taxpayer funded sheet Legislative Digest. Now BIB finds new prominence on that media landscape.

Citizens rightly look to a number of sources for news and information, and depending on their views and sensibilities, will always debate the validity of one forum or another. But we’ve ceased to be surprised at how dramatically the island’s political sentiments are informed by the council coverage – unlike other media, a wholly unmediated experience – that folks see on BIB.

They see public process at its best and its sometimes not so flattering, earnest debates, sour arguments, quips, bon mots and retorts, every effect and affect of their elected city officials. (And if you doubt council members are cognizant of this, start counting how many times they turn toward the camera with the phrase, “I just want the public to know that...”

Some islanders watch for enlightenment, others for sport. We know a gentleman who professes to watch the heretofore taped meetings in the comfort of a favorite armchair, glass of scotch in hand, hurling invectives at the screen with each perceived council blunder. (He also generates a fair number of letters to the Review editor, which we appreciate.)

Those we talk to at BIB hope the live feed can have a rather different effect still – that viewers will be so moved (or angered, as the case may be) by what they see transpiring in real time, they’ll head down to City Hall to take part in the proceedings themselves. We like that notion, and hope it proves true. For even as live broadcasts inspire more islanders to watch their city government in action, we trust that many will still take the time to attend the meetings in person.

As the phrase implies, participatory democracy requires some action on your part. Television is still a one-way medium, and the council can’t hear from you if you don’t show up.

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