Pay to play

Pay to play: We're having a debate about a debate here at the Dallas Observer. Robert Wilonsky, editor of the Observer's blog Unfair Park, thinks Belo Corp. is behaving like an evil corporate monopoly by limiting access to the live broadcast of this Friday's gubernatorial debate. This is bad, he says. Buzz believes that Belo is acting like an evil corporate monopoly etc., but this is good.

Our argument is over the duty of media companies to provide a public service and give voters needed information. It's a complex discussion, so we'll sum up: Buzz is right, and Wilonsky is wrong. (This column ain't called Wilonsky, is it?)

As is typical, the setup of the debate among Governor Rick Perry and challengers Kinky Friedman, Chris Bell and Carole Keeton Strayhorn is generating more heat than you're likely to see at the event itself. Perry's challengers say the guv is chicken for not doing the usual two debates and for insisting that the one take place on the night high school football teams play. Perry's the mole to be whacked, critics say, and doesn't want to stick his head out twice.

Meanwhile, Belo, which owns The Dallas Morning News and TV stations in Dallas (WFAA-Channel 8), Houston, Austin and San Antonio, says competitors in those cities can't air the debate--except for public TV and Spanish-language stations, but then only on tape-delay and within four days of the debate.

In the past, there have been two debates, with one organized by a public television station and made available to everyone. Dallas' KERA-Channel 13 tried to arrange a second debate this time but was shot down by the Perry camp.

So why is Belo's move not necessarily evil? Because editors and reporters like to get paid. Buzz has long been puzzled by the media companies' strategy of giving away content gratis on the Internet, for example. Keep doing that, and who's going to be left to report on the race at all? The guys who patch potholes provide a public service, and no one expects them to give away the asphalt for free, so if Belo is willing to arrange the debate, why shouldn't it try to control how the results are used?

That's just one Buzz's opinion, provided to you in a free weekly publication. And really, the fact that the lovely Mrs. Buzz gets her paycheck from Belo in no way influenced us.

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Patrick Williams is editor-in-chief of the Dallas Observer.
Contact: Patrick Williams

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