The Role of the Media in California’s Legislative Process

Today’s podcast focuses on the role of the media in California’s legislative process. The media’s role is so important that they’re considered a fourth branch of government and sometimes referred to as the Fourth Estate.

Their coverage – or lack thereof – can have great influence over the fate of legislation. The media can bring to light what goes on behind the scenes during California’s legislative session. They can use their coverage to draw attention to a particular piece of legislation and make the public aware of it. The media also play a large role in the ethics of legislature by covering FPPC investigations and fines, and scandals – such as in 2014 when three State Senators were suspended due to alleged criminal conduct or, more recently, in their coverage of the #WeSaidEnough movement that is bringing to light the issues of sexual harassment in the Legislature working to make this arena a safer place to work. The opinions of newspapers’ editorial boards – sought after by candidates and ballot measures in campaigns – are also important in the legislative process.

This is why taking the media into account is a key part of legislative strategy. Whether responding to a headline with a timely piece of legislation to address an issue in their local paper, or trying to get their viewpoint on a bill out to the public via an opinion piece or a letter to the editor, the media are an important means for legislators, staff, and special interest groups to have their viewpoint heard. Social media has also become important for doing this.

Prop 54, which I talked about in an earlier podcast, has also changed the dynamics with the media. Effective now, any person is authorized to take video or audio recordings of legislative proceedings – closed session excluded – and can use that for any legitimate purpose without needing to pay a fee to the State of California. Effective January 1, 2018, the Legislature will have to make audio/visual recordings of all its proceedings available online – again, excepting closed sessions.

If the role of the media are something that interests you, you should also plan on attending the McGeorge Capital Center for Law & Policy’s annual Belote Lecture on January 11, 2018. This year’s topic is Journalism in the Era of Fake News and features Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times, John Myers of the Los Angeles Times, and Joe Mathews of Zócalo Public Square. You can RSVP the event by emailing mcgeorgeevents@pacific.edu or calling (916) 739-7138.

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