Complex Issues in Less than 2 Minutes?

I recently testified before a legislative committee on behalf of one of our clients. The legislation involved the balancing of private property rights with the need for environmental protection. It also raised issues about legislative intent, due process and the breath of administrative rule making.

In a crowded hearing room in the basement of the State House, the committee heard more than two hours of contentious and largely contradictory testimony. A lot of lawyers spoke, as did a herpetologist, a marine biologist and several bureaucrats. Those few legislators who remained until the end of the hearing seemed awfully confused. They appeared to be sympathetic to the rights of property owners, but weren’t sure how to rein in a regulatory program that had gone awry.

I mention all of this, because after the hearing, I was interviewed by a reporter from a local television station about the matter. She asked me several questions about the proposed legislation and why my client supported it. I answered her questions the best I could, trying not to be too legalistic or technical. She thanked me for my help and then packed up her camera and went to interview the folks who opposed the bill.

Although I didn’t see the report on the news that evening, our client did and later sent me the link to the story on the station’s webpage. After watching the report, something struck me. While the reporter tried to present both sides of the issue, the 1 minute and 28 second report didn’t make clear what the issue was. Quite simply, if viewers weren’t already familiar with the controversy before watching the news, they surely didn’t understand it any better afterward.

That wasn’t the reporter’s fault. She did the best she could with the time she was given. I guess that’s the news business today. But if two hours of expert testimony didn’t clarify the issue for legislators at a hearing, a TV news story of less than 2 minutes wasn’t going to do it for someone watching at home. Little wonder the citizens of Massachusetts don’t understand the relevance of what goes on at the State House to their lives.

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