EDITORIAL: Lip readers needed

by Sep 25, 2017OPINIONS0 comments





Roughly a year ago, I brought up the subject of public documents and the need to have accurate records of our Tribal Council sessions and truly any official government business that is conducted. The concerns began a couple of years ago, when Tribal Council decided that sessions no longer needed to be transcribed during the sessions because they had installed cameras and microphones so that the sessions could be televised, broadcasted, and streamed. The thinking at the time was that this would be a verbatim record, so there was no need for authenticated transcripts. The recording would become the official documentation. And so, it is.

In a perfect world with perfect people, this might have been a great time saver and would give clear records of the sessions. In a perfect world…with perfect people. The reality is that since each Tribal Council member controls his or her own microphone (the microphone at the podium is controlled by the media technician who is monitoring the recording and broadcast equipment, I presume), the viewer/listener gets sporadic silences or “dead spots” in the deliberation of the Council.

In the heat of discussion, it is sometimes difficult for the representatives to remember to push the button that turns on their microphones. Even after admonishments from the Chair, there are still times when Council members forget, ignore, or, for whatever reason, do not engage the microphone as they speak. There are no attempts to correct or repeat deliberations to get their words documented, so those comments made off microphone are lost from public review.

Beyond the lapses in memory to turn on the microphones, some people who get too close to the microphone or have loud voices cause a “clipping” feature in the equipment to engage. Most professional audio electronics have a safety feature to protect the recording equipment. If a noise is picked up by the microphone that is so loud that it might damage the equipment, the equipment shuts off the audio feed until the noise subsides. So, during some sessions, you will have someone who is just the right height to put their mouth right up to the mic. If they are particularly loud speakers, the audio equipment kills the signal. Any discussion during the time that the equipment is resetting is lost audio. On the receiving end, again, we get silence while watching their lips move.

Per the Code, when anyone asks for a written copy of those meetings, the Tribal Operations office is charged with transcribing and providing copies. I have always wondered how they might manage to transcribe those places where the microphone shuts down or is not turned on by a Council member. These are important, historical sessions of our government and need to be as complete and accurate as possible. If a critical piece of information is not “on microphone”, will we hire lip readers to try to decipher what was said in the meeting?

It is long past time to address this issue in a meaningful way. It is worth the cost if we need to hire stenographers to document the sessions. Too many important actions are taken that impact our community to not have detailed accounts of the process. In the interest of ensuring ethical behavior, it would be a great move and gesture to have all the microphones live or at least controlled by a sound technician, instead of the individual Tribal Council members, during lawmaking sessions. If not, then we should hire a team of lip readers and insist on having closed captioning for the televised portions of all Tribal Council sessions.