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Baltimore viewers excluded from first gubernatorial debate

Television IndustryColleges and UniversitiesTelevisionNBCComcast CorporationHeather R. MizeurAnthony Brown

Even though next week's first gubernatorial TV debate is being co-hosted by two taxpayer-funded state universities, Baltimore viewers are not scheduled to be able to see it.

The event featuring Democratic candidates Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and Del. Heather R. Mizeur is scheduled for 7 p.m. May 7 at the University of Maryland, College Park and will be broadcast live on Washington's NBC-owned station, WRC-TV (Channel 4).

The only other Maryland TV station scheduled to have a live feed is WHAG-TV in Hagerstown.

While some residents are likely to see Baltimore's TV exclusion as another example of the city's declining importance in state politics, a spokesman for the Washington station that is partnering with the University of Maryland and Bowie State University to present the debate said Tuesday that it offered a live feed to WBAL-TV, but the city's NBC affiliate declined.

Dan Joerres, WBAL's president and general manager said his station declined because it was already scheduled to carry the other two gubernatorial debates, one Democratic and one Republican in June.

At this point, there are three TV debates scheduled: May 7 (Democratic), June 2 (Democratic) and a third featuring Republican candidates sometime during the week of June 2.

"WBAL-TV is working in conjunction with Maryland Public Television in airing the Democratic debate live on June 2nd at 7p.m.," Joerres wrote in an email Tuesday. "We are also working with Maryland Public Television to air the Republican debate. The air date has yet to be determined, but will likely be the first week of June as well."

WBAL carried only one debate in 2010 and that was between Martin O'Malley and Robert Ehrlich in the general election, according to Wanda Draper, a spokeswoman for the station.

WBAL is scheduled to air syndicated programs "Inside Edition" and "Access Hollywood" from 7 to 8 p.m. May 7.

The real question, though, centers on Maryland Public Television. If anyone with access to the Baltimore market would seem to have a civic obligation in airing this debate it is the state-owned public broadcasting outlet.

"We expect to cover their debate as subject matter within 'State Circle,'" Steven J. Schupak, chief content officer for MPT,wrote in an email Tuesday when asked about the channel's plans for May 7.

"State Circle" is a 30-minutes discussion program that airs Friday nights. That would put the discussion two nights after the debate.

Matt Glassman, a spokesman for WRC, said Tuesday that his station would be "willing to work with Maryland Public Television" if the broadcaster wanted to carry the debate live on May 7.

Late Tuesday, Schupak sent a follow-up email to the Sun saying MPT "had not been directly offered" the debate, but that it was now "looking at carrying the program in some form."

But as of the time of this post, the MPT lineup for 7 to 8 p.m. May 7 was still "Nightly Business Report" and "MotorWeek."

I am not going to editorialize about public service and the responsibility stations have with events like these debates to serve members of their audiences as  citizens -- not just consumers.

Here's one email the Sun editorial department received this week. We received quite a few, and in some, the language is similar, which makes me think some of the letters, calls and emails might be the work of a candidate's campaign.

But the motive isn't as important as the message. And this is a righteous message.

As a Baltimore City resident, I am quite upset to learn that the Maryland gubernatorial debate scheduled for next Wednesday, May 7th is not going to be broadcast in the greater Baltimore area, although it is being shown by Channel 4 in Washington. 

This election is of paramount importance in determining the direction of Maryland for the next eight years and beyond, and it is vital that each and every voter has the opportunity to make an informed and careful decision. 

The fact that we are being denied access to this debate is doing each voter an irreparable disservice and shows a lack of respect for the voting public that is unacceptable. 

WRC's Glassman said his station is also making the debate available to Comcast for its On Demand viewers.

That is better than nothing for Baltimore viewers who are Comcast subscribers, I guess.

But watching an event like a political debate out of real time when others are talking about it in social media is a far different experience than seeing it live.

As for a live stream from WRC, ask yourself what your attitude would be if the Baltimore Ravens were offered only on livestream from a Washington station, not TV, in Baltimore. And what about older viewers who receive over-the-air TV, but don't have online access?

I don't do advocacy journalism or tell broadcasters how to run their stations. That's not my job.

But I'll be watching MPT closely to see if it decides to offer Baltimore viewers something better than a 30-minute discussion of the debate two days after it airs.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Television IndustryColleges and UniversitiesTelevisionNBCComcast CorporationHeather R. MizeurAnthony Brown
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