Interactive TV Provides Feedback on Political Issues

By Bovet, Susan Fry | Public Relations Journal, June-July 1994 | Go to article overview

Interactive TV Provides Feedback on Political Issues


Bovet, Susan Fry, Public Relations Journal


Live coverage of hearings, committee meetings and debates from the California State Assembly in Sacramento are often paired with 800 telephone numbers to provide feedback on important political issues. The interactive sessions, arranged by Assembly Television Director Douglas Stone, allow voters and other interested parties to "reach state legislators by non-traditional means." The interactive approach has proven a powerful tool for informing the public and stimulating action, according to Stone. Some issues have even attracted national attention and coverage, he noted.

The "interactives" tend to involve new and larger publics than would normally be reached by traditional media, Stone added. Tapes of the sessions also have great publicity value in stimulating debate and coverage of an issue. They also help public officials present their positions on the issues to constituents and gain exposure and recognition.

According to Stone, California's interactive hearings are a one-of-a-kind phenomenon in the United States. "It's amazing that other state legislatures aren't doing this," he said.

Controversy provokes comment

For instance, Assembly TV's interactive coverage of hearings on education vouchers in September reached four million households via 70 cable systems, Stone reported. That's 1.4 million more than normally view the gavel-to-gavel workings of the State Assembly, which have been cablecast since early 1991. The California Assembly's cable system is "similar to C-SPAN" in its unedited format, according to Stone. C-SPAN covers congressional proceedings in Washington, DC, 24 hours a day, while the California system currently operates 35 hours per week.

The School Vouchers Initiative (Proposition 174) stimulated great public interest because people had strong opinions about whether public funds should be used for private education, Stone explained. One month in advance of the cablecast, he contacted educators, cable operators, the Capitol press corps and other print and broadcast media about the interactive event.

About 30 California TV news stations out of 76 covered the story. Many newspapers announced the hearing, along with its toll-free call-in number, and followed up with articles after the cablecast. More than 100 California-based schools and colleges downlinked the hearing in order to participate.

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