Bay State House will soon be seen gavel to gavel on TV

TV or not TV? That is no longer the question in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Beginning in January, live gavel-to-gavel television coverage of all seessions in the Bay State's lower legislative chamber will be transmitted to Bay State viewers.

The Massachusetts House thus becomes the first state legislative body to have such an arrangement. At least 65 other state lawmaking branches -- 32 senates and 33 houses off representatives have similarly opened their doors to TV cameras over the past two decades, but on a limited basis.

Under the agreement signed Tuesday, a Boston educational television station, WGBY, will receive some $250,000 for its coverage of the daily sittings for the first six months. And for the 12 months beginning next July 1, the House will pay the station $440,000. In addition, the Legislature will spend $1.2 million for cameras and other equipment needed for the televising.

Besides the House chamber, three other locations, including hearing rooms, will be equipped for live coverage of proceedings.

In exchange for its continuous coverage, WGBY, an affiliate of WGBH Educational Foundation, will have exclusive right to televise House sessions. Commercial stations wishing to use excerpts of the coverage will have to contract for it through the public-television outlet. Any proceeds from sale of such coverage are to be deducted from what the House is to pay WGBY.

Although originally vehemently opposed to television peaking in on its sessions, the House leadership changed its position slowly over the past nine months after a band of reform-bent members pushed through a rules change clearing the way for such coverage.

Massachusetts Senate proceedings still are out of bounds to television cameras, except on very rare occasions and by special invitation. A similar rules change is expected to be pushed there with new vigor once the House goes on television in 1984.

TV coverage of leegislative proceedings in most states is limited to filming of speical debates, usually by public-television stations. Such coverage, with few exceptions, is then edited into a nightly or weekly program. Rarely, however, is continuous live coverage provided for more than an hour or so and then only when a particularly important matter is under consideration.

Massachusetts House leaders concede that portions of the coverage may be dull , but contend that letting viewers see everything is a fairer presentation of what is happening than some type of edited coverage.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.