Nets Pushed to Roadblock Debates

The Public Interest, Public Airwaves Coalition has written the major broadcast and cable news networks asking that they make an immediate public commitment to air the presidential and vice-presidential debates live.

The Bush and Kerry camps have begun negotiating on the proposed three presidential and one vice presidential debates, with the Washington Post reporting that the Bush side may balk at more than two presidential square-offs. Debates usually have more potential "gotcha" downsides for the incumbent.

Meredith McGehee of the Alliance for Better Campaigns, which is part of the coalition, says that, at least in terms of broadcasters, airing the debates live is a public interest obligation not a value-added. "This is not a feel-good about everybody sitting around and singing kumbaya," she said. She also advises stations that if their networks don't carry the debate, to preempt them and get the feed somewhere else.

"Should you choose to air sports or entertainment programming instead of the national debates," the coalition wrote, "we will urge your local affiliates to invoke their "right to reject" network programming in favor of the debates.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.