Senate Live Streaming Grows in Popularity
LITTLE ROCK - Transparency in government is a growth industry, if you analyze the number of people who watched the Arkansas Senate during the 2019 legislative session.
The Senate began live streaming its sessions for the first time on January 14, 2019, the first day of the 92nd General Assembly. One of the main reasons, according to Senator Jim Hendren of Gravette, the Senate President Pro Tem, was to make Senate proceedings more easily accessible to the public.
"Our decision to set up live streaming was driven by people's desire for greater accountability," Hendren said. "With the technology available today, there is no reason for government meetings to be conducted out of sight of the general public."
The Arkansas Senate was one of the last legislative bodies in the country to install live streaming. "Every member had his or her own reasons, but it basically boiled down to inertia," Hendren said. "The fact is, there was no legitimate excuse for not broadcasting Senate proceedings, and now that we have it's generally considered a great success."
On February 8, a typical day early in the session, 434 people watched the Senate via live streaming. By March 8 the number had risen to 625 and on April 8 it was 1,985.
"We knew that administration officials, lobbyists, reporters and bloggers would all be watching, but nobody anticipated that the numbers would escalate so much," Hendren said.
Although the Senate made no secret of its new live streaming capability, one event in particular brought it to the nation's attention. On March 6, the Senate Judiciary Committee was considering proposed "Stand Your Ground" legislation. Senator Stephanie Flowers of Pine Bluff, the vice chair, spoke against the bill emotionally and at length, finally walking out of the committee to compose herself. Her remarks have been viewed at least 10 million times since.
Growth in the number of viewers was not limited to those who watched live, in real time. As the session progressed, more people were watching archived recordings.
For example, only 74 people watched the February 8 session of the Senate later that evening or the next day. A total of 418 viewers watched the April 8 session later that evening or the next day.
"It's been good for the senators, because now they're very aware that the world is watching," Hendren said. "What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but what happens in the Arkansas Senate is broadcast everywhere. That's good for transparency, for open government and for the people of Arkansas."