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Network's Control of Debate Rankles Pundits

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Network's Control of Debate Rankles Pundits

Election 2008

Network's Control of Debate Rankles Pundits

Network's Control of Debate Rankles Pundits

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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When MSNBC aired the debate of the Democratic candidates in North Carolina, they set up a list of rules for usage of the audio and video, including a restriction against Internet use. There's been an outcry from bloggers and other free-speech activists for permission to post, share and comment on clips from the debate.


After tonight's GOP presidential debate, clips from the event will no doubt turn out on YouTube. MSNBC, which is hosting the debate, has strict guidelines about Internet use of footage, and might very well take them down.

As NPR's Laura Sydell reports, activists, academics and entrepreneurs are urging both political parties and the networks to make material from the debates freely available.

LAURA SYDELL: Despite restrictions, clips from the first Democratic presidential debate turned up on YouTube almost immediately. Some, with further commentary.

(Soundbite of YouTube video)

Unidentified Man #1: Can you reassure your voters in this country that you would have the discipline you would need on the world stage, Senator?

Senator JOSEPH BIDEN (Democrat, Delaware): Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #3: Speaking with that one-word answer and writing out the silence did show some real discipline on Senator Biden's part.

SYDELL: The Biden campaign itself also put video clips of the debate on YouTube. When NPR contacted their office, the spokesperson was surprised to learn there were restrictions. Initially, MSNBC prohibited anyone from sharing debate clips online. Jeff Jarvis, an associate professor of the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism lambasted the network on his blog called BuzzMachine.

Mr. JEFF JARVIS (Associate Professor, City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism): This is also offensive democratically. Just because it's ridiculous to think that a network should own the Democratic conversation in this country. This campaign belongs to the people.

SYDELL: As of today, MSNBC will let voters share clips but only for a month. NPR contacted Fox and CBS and network officials there who say voters will only be able to see their debates online at their corporate Web site. ABC says it hasn't decided what it will do. Huffington Post editor in chief, Arianna Huffington, wants to make sure that material from presidential debates is freely available to everyone over the Internet.

Ms. ARIANNA HUFFINGTON (Editor in Chief, Huffington Post): Because that's the way that people interact with the views of the candidate. That's how they can do fact checking, that's how they can point out the platitudes.

SYDELL: Huffington is one of 75 signatories to a petition that was sent to the Democratic and Republican national committees, asking them to make free online availability a condition for a network that wants to televise a debate. Other signers include Craig Newmark of Craigslist, Jimmy Wells, the founder of Wikipedia, and today, Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama joined them.

In the Internet age - when politicians speak even to small audiences - their words can come back to haunt them. Think of former Republican Senator George Allen, who made a racial slur eventually seen by millions over the Web. But signatories to the petition also include Republicans like Michael Turk, the former e-campaign director of the Republican National Committee.

Mr. MICHAEL TURK (Former e-campaign Director, Republican National Committee): As a political party they should want to embrace a technology, or embrace a practice that would bring more people into the process. And it would bring more people to the side of their candidates and sort of sharing the message to their candidate.

SYDELL: The RNC says it doesn't want to weigh in on this discussion. The DNC says it is considering the matter in its network negotiations. Blogger Jarvis thinks the candidates and the networks are fooling themselves if they think they can stop voters from sharing debate material online.

Mr. JARVIS: The exclusivity in this world last about 30 seconds. And the video's going to be out there anyway, and there really isn't a lot of point in that. And it really doesn't gain you anything. In fact, want the video out there all around the world with your logo on it.

SYDELL: Jarvis says, in this election, candidates should be aware. This will be the YouTube campaign regardless of what the networks or the politicians want.

Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.

(Soundbite of music)


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