Senators Want to See Global C-SPAN


WASHINGTON -With increased scrutiny of the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund, two U.S. senators have proposed shedding a little light on the groups' proceedings, with perhaps a "global C-SPAN."

Sens. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) called for broadcasting the meetings of leading international organizations as a means of reducing the Cold War-era secrecy they said surrounds such prominent groups.

"There is no excuse for dawdling here, given the accessibility of technology such as," Wyden said in a recently released 20-page report prepared by his and Moynihan's staff.

But C-SPAN has declined to embrace the new opportunity. The cable industry-created network, devoted to covering Congress and the federal government, is not interested in televising meetings of international organizations. That's largely due to cost involved and the fact that other networks are available to handle the task, said Bruce Collins, C-SPAN's corporate vice president and general counsel for the network.

But Collins agreed the meetings of the WTO and the IMF should be open and accessible. "Who can argue with that?" he said.

Televised meetings would allow citizens of member nations to hold their representatives more accountable, the report stated, citing current closed-doors policy-making and public suspicion.

"The public has to have trust and confidence in these deliberations, and it won't if they just are edicts that come out of a Geneva bureaucracy," said Moynihan, a longtime authority on government secrecy, referring to the decision-making assembly of the WTO.

U.S. taxpayers contribute an estimated $14 million to the WTO but have no direct way of knowing what happens at its meetings, according to the report.

The report came soon after the U.S. Trade Representative announced plans to push for more open and accessible policies for the WTO. Although U.S. officials hope to improve outreach programs and allow observers to watch certain meetings on an experimental basis, they have declined to address televised coverage.

The senators said U.S. agencies also need to open their doors, citing a Congressional Research Service study which indicated that more than 10 percent of the 1,524 closed federal meetings in 1998 were restricted without citing a specific statutory reason.

"Congress should review the Sunshine in Government Act, with an eye toward strengthening the incentives for open meetings and paring down the number of exemptions officials may use to justify closing the doors," the senators said. The act, passed almost a quarter-century ago, requires open meetings of federal boards and commissions.

The senators also recommended forcing WTO representatives to vote before closing any meetings and requiring public transcripts of the meetings of the Federal Open Market Committee, an arm of the Federal Reserve Board that makes key monetary decisions for the U.S. government.

Wyden noted that the proposed "global C-SPAN" network could operate under the International Telecommunications Union, a multinational organization that coordinates global telecom networks.

States News Service