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Jewish World Review July 29, 2004 / 11 Menachem-Av, 5764

Roger Simon

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TV blackout | BOSTON — I am not saying that Tuesday night at the Democratic Convention was the most electrifying or informative in the history of politics.

I am saying it was more electrifying and informative than "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," "Last Comic Standing," "Navy NCIS" and "Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy."

But that is what the commercial TV networks brought us instead of covering even one second of the convention.

The networks are barely covering the convention at all. They are broadcasting just one live hour a night for three nights. Tuesday night, they broadcast nothing live at all.

I think that is embarrassing. Especially considering the tripe they are broadcasting instead.

How embarrassing is it? This embarrassing: According to the Boston Herald, the Arab news network, al Jazeera, "is airing more live prime-time broadcasting" of the Democratic convention "each night than the major commercial American networks." Al Jazeera, according to the newspaper, is broadcasting 90 minutes of the convention each night.

Why is al Jazeera doing so? According to the network's spokesperson, Stephanie Thomas, "This convention is particularly relevant, both to our Middle Eastern and our American audiences."

American networks apparently do not think a presidential nominating convention is "particularly relevant" to their American audiences, however.

But wait, you say, some of the networks have cable outlets that are covering the convention a lot more, right?

Yeah, but examine the difference in audience size: According to Curtis Gans, director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, the combined prime-time viewing audience for ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox is 30 million. The combined prime-time viewing audience for the cable and satellite channels (PBS, CNN, Fox News Channel, CNBC, MSNBC and MTV) is 6.6 million.

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And there is something else to consider. "Those who select one of these cable or satellite channels or seek convention coverage on the Internet are already politically interested and committed," Gans said. "Those who watch only the networks are the general public. It is the general public that needs to be engaged and informed."

I am not faulting the news operations of the commercial networks. You can bet the news operations wanted to cover the conventions. But the money people at the networks did not. And that is because they know they can make a lot more money bringing the public "reality" programming instead of the reality of the nominating conventions.

But the public doesn't want to watch! the money people say. And we have low ratings from past years to prove it.

To which I say: Who cares? You were granted broadcast licenses by the government to provide a public service, not just make money hand over fist. And by refusing to meet your public service obligations, you deny those members of the public who do want to be informed the ability to get the information they want and need.

The same networks that broadcast every lap of 500-lap auto races could not bring us a single second of a convention on a night during which Ted Kennedy, Howard Dean, Barack Obama, Ron Reagan, and Teresa Heinz Kerry all spoke.

It is shameful.

And you would think that American TV networks would be just a little embarrassed that if American citizens want to really watch American democracy in action, they would be better off watching al Jazeera.

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