FCC News Release: “FCC Commissioner Susan Ness Decries Decisions of NBC and Fox Networks Not To Air the First Presidential Debate”
(September 9, 2000)

FCC Commissioner Susan Ness today decried the decision of the NBC and Fox Networks to shun coverage of the first presidential debate, scheduled for Tuesday, October 3, 2000. She called upon the two networks to reconsider their decision and join their colleagues at ABC and CBS in carrying the debates.

"As a government official, I respect and defend the First Amendment right of broadcasters to determine what programming they will air, without government intrusion. As an American citizen, however, I feel I must speak out." said Commissioner Ness.

"I am dismayed that NBC and Fox have chosen to deny their broadcast viewers the opportunity to witness the first of the three Presidential Debates organized by the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates."

"U.S. presidential elections occur only once every four years. Surely television networks and their owned-and-operated stations can forgo profits from entertainment programming for an hour and a half to allow their viewers to see the leading candidates for our Nation's top office debate the critical issues of the day." Ness added.

"Broadcast television enjoys a unique position in our society. In exchange for six megahertz of free spectrum -- and an additional six megahertz, temporarily, to facilitate conversion from analog to digital -- broadcasters undertake to serve in the public interest. It is hard to imagine what could be more in the public interest of American democracy than covering a presidential debate just weeks before the election."

"Americans should not be forced to pay for all news, information, and entertainment programming. As many as one-third of our citizens do not subscribe to cable or satellite services. Channels that appear only on cable or satellite are no substitute for free over-the-air broadcast programming."

"As a member of our national community, I urge all broadcast licensees to consider their civic duty to inform the public. If a licensee absolutely cannot preempt existing programming to carry the debates live, I hope that it will air the debates on a delayed basis later that evening." Ness concluded.