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The (Not-So-)Great Debate

Rick Perry's folks brokered a deal that would give Belo exclusive access to Friday night's gubernatorial debate.

On Friday, the four major gubernatorial candidates will participate in the sole debate before the November 7 election. The date of the debate has already been a substantial point of contention: It'll air from 7-8 p.m., which means it's during high-school football games, and it takes place the night before Texas and Oklahoma play at the Cotton Bowl in Fair Park. Why this is a problem is beyond me; it's not like Longhorns fans are going to wrestle with the question, "Should I stay home to see where Kinky Friedman comes down on coal-fired electricity plants, or should I go downtown and get shitfaced?" Could be wrong. Doubt it seriously.

But another issue concerning the debate has arisen, which is this: For some reason, the Belo Corporation has been allowed total control over the debate, including where it's aired, who has access to it and who can replay the thing after it's finished. Turns out, in, say, Dallas or Houston, where Belo has network affiliates, you won't be able to watch the debate on a competing affiliate--even a PBS affiliate, which has infuriated KERA-Channel 13 execs who wanted to carry the debate live on Friday night. Here, it's available only on WFAA-Channel 8 and The Dallas Morning News' Web site.

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Now, if you live in a non-Belo market, you can get the debate from any TV station that wants is; it'll be made available to them via a satellite downlink. But those stations can't stream the debate from their Web sites. The same goes for radio stations both in and outside of Belo markets: They can air the debate live, but they're prohibited from streaming live on their Web sites.

But here's where it gets very sticky. According to guidelines distributed by Belo through the Texas Association of Broadcasters, Spanish-language stations inside the Belo markets cannot air the debate live. They can only do so on a tape delay and only have four days to do so; after midnight on October 10, they're outta luck. Those are the same rules being foisted upon PBS stations and TV stations outside the Belo market. If you don't put that thing on the air in four days, well, ya might as well pretend it never happened. So that means no one can see the debate, less'n they have Belo access, for an entire month before the election. And, so you don't forget, rule No. 10 says that "NO media outlets (other than Belo Properties) will be allowed to stream the debate on their websites live or on a delay."

Late last week, Harvey Kronberg mentioned this on his Quorum Report, with the headline: "Belo agrees to deliver the least value possible in exchange for an exclusive." Sounds about par for the course. Kronberg also noted that only Belo employees will be participating in the panel, and that of those expected to participate--John McCaa of WFAA-Channel 8, Sarah Lucero of KENS-TV in San Antonio, Christine Haas of KVUE-TV in Austin, moderator Greg Hurst of KHOU in Houston and the News' Wayne Slater--only Slater "routinely covers the Capitol and the campaign." Maybe going downtown to get shitfaced is the right thing to do, come to think of it. --Robert Wilonsky

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