Democracy needs two things to survive. The first is an active citizenry, because no democracy can survive indifference. The other thing democracy needs is far simpler: Fresh air. The more openness, transparency and exposure, the better.
So it came as great news for Australian democracy that a new public affairs network, A-SPAN, is about to launch, 100% funded by the pay-TV sector, Foxtel and Austar, in association with Sky News. It will help provide the air democracy needs, and will make it easier to citizens to become informed and active.
Shortly after taking office, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd held a 2020 summit to look at where Australia should be in the future. One of the things that was recommended was an Australian version of the USA's C-SPAN, and that it should launch in 2020. Instead, it'll launch in January (carrying C-SPAN's broadcast of the inauguration of Barack Obama as US President). That's eleven years ahead of schedule.
A-SPAN will be an affiliate of C-SPAN, carrying much of its US and Canadian programming. It will also carry Question Time from the UK Parliament, as well as expanded coverage of New Zealand's Parliament. The thing that's extraordinary about it is that C-SPAN will also carry A-SPAN programming, meaning for the first time Americans will be able to watch Australian democracy in action (for better or worse…).
Probably more important for Aussies is the local coverage: Full coverage of sittings of Parliament, important committee hearings and other public events. A-SPAN will also eventually carry Question Time from the Parliaments of all Australian states and territories. Australian democracy will never be the same.
I was a big fan of C-SPAN in America, so I hope that A-SPAN is carried in New Zealand. It will eventually be streamed over the Internet. It's highly unlikely that New Zealand will see it's own public affairs network because there's only one pay-TV operator, and the Freeview consortium is also unlikely to pay for it. Still, as technology evolves anything could happen—even a little fresh air.
This post has been edited to fix some formatting errors that slipped through when I used a different program to write it.