UCLA’s version of C-SPAN is an important service for transparency, but it shouldn’t be rocket science – or cost thousands of dollars to support.
The Undergraduate Students Association Council has been discussing for almost two months changing the policies surrounding its USAC Live! service, a YouTube channel where students can watch the council’s meetings live or at their own convenience. At the Oct. 3 council meeting, USAC President Arielle Yael Mokhtarzadeh said she was looking into using a livestreaming platform that would cost the council a whopping $10,000. And at Tuesday’s council meeting, Mokhtarzadeh said she was looking into limiting the council’s YouTube videos to only those with “g.ucla.edu” logins.
Setting up a livestream shouldn’t be this difficult, though. Governing bodies, such as the state government or even the University of California Board of Regents, already have well-managed livestream services, and USAC’s shouldn’t require a herculean effort to handle.
USAC Live! is shoddily recorded and has poor audio and visual quality. If USAC intends to revamp its livestreaming service, it needs to first focus on ensuring its recordings are of adequate, viewable quality by investing in better video recording devices. After that, it can start worrying about which video platform to use.
USAC originally didn’t intend to record the meetings when it introduced USAC Live! in 2014. In 2015, however, the council started archiving its livestream videos after concerns about transparency erupted over the deletion of a livestream where council members questioned a student candidate for the USAC Judicial Board about her ability to remain impartial because she was involved in Jewish organizations.
The student body has since had the privilege of watching blurry and sometimes inaudible USAC Live! videos recorded via a laptop camera either placed on a ledge far away from the council table or jerkily rotated about on the council table.
The council has recently floated the idea of hosting USAC Live! on another platform following concerns about privacy of council meetings. These are valid concerns: Council members are students, after all, and do not serve those outside the university.
These concerns, however, also warrant a discussion about transparency. There are ways to protect the individuals’ privacy during council meetings, such as by muting audio and turning off the camera, but USAC Live! in its current form can hardly support that, given its subpar quality, while retaining transparency. USAC could easily codify additional privacy procedures, but that’s contingent on a streaming service that can hold council members accountable – something USAC Live! fails to do, since viewers can hardly tell who is saying what.
As such, USAC should invest in appropriate camera equipment to livestream and record meetings in a higher quality. There are various existing technologies the council can employ, such as connecting high-quality video cameras to laptops that can serve as laptop webcams. The council could also create a student position to oversee recording the meetings.
Certainly, the cost of this investment might seem high. But the council has a multi-million dollar budget and already floated the idea of spending thousands of dollars on a new streaming platform. USAC clearly has the funds to invest in a one-time equipment cost that ensures a more accessible and transparent council.
It can worry about which posh livestreaming website or YouTube channel configuration to use later.