For Immediate Release

September 13, 2016


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Columbia, SC – South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Jaime Harrison delivered the following statement at this morning’s SCETV Commission meeting regarding televised general election debates. A petition asking SCETV to reverse its decision not to televise any general election debates this year garnered over 1000 signatures. SCETV President and CEO Linda O’Bryon has agreed to air interviews with congressional candidates, though no televised debates have yet been planned. Chairman Harrison asked that SCETV reconsider its decision not to televise any debates this year, particularly in races where the candidates have agreed to debate, have worked out all the details, and simply need a television network to film and air the debate so that voters who are unable to attend in person can become informed.

“Good morning Commissioners and Chairman Nelson. I want to thank you for allowing me the opportunity to address you this morning. I also want to thank SCETV President and CEO Linda O’Bryon—she and I have had a series of thoughtful and productive discussions over the past week.

“I am Jaime Harrison, Chairman of the SC Democratic Party. I come to you today to discuss my concerns relating to the issues that originated in The State newspaper article published on August 31, 2016, entitled ‘SCETV won’t televise SC’s Fall election debates.’ In that article, the spokesperson for SCETV cited resources and staffing as being the obstacle to televising debates, but he went a step further to state that the decision might have been different if the state had a series of ‘highly competitive’ general election races.

“Commissioners: as you know, SCETV’s mission is to enrich lives by educating children, informing and connecting citizens, celebrating our culture and environment, and instilling the joy of learning. It has long been one of the state’s greatest assets and treasures. This is public television funded and supported by all and should not be driven by ratings but grounded in informing and educating the public.

“Competitiveness of congressional races should never be a determinant of fulfilling that mission. SCETV couldn’t have used competitiveness as a determinant when it decided to televise a Republican primary debate between Rep. Mark Sanford and State Representative Jenny Horne. There was never a question that Mark Sanford would win that primary.

“All of our jobs, regardless of whether we are in public broadcasting or running a party—our jobs should be geared towards getting information to the voters and letting them decide. Someone once said, ‘An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.’ I fundamentally believe this; the Democratic Party fundamentally believes this. We should all believe this.

“Since this article was published, I have learned more about the criteria which SCETV utilizes to determine debates to televise. Because of its statewide efforts there is a strong preference to televise statewide races. Given that factor, I would also encourage the network to host a debate between U.S. Senator Tim Scott and Pastor Thomas Dixon. The network hosted such a debate in 2014, and I would hope that it could do something similar again this year.

“But I also want to make the argument that congressional races are tremendously important to this state, and the media in South Carolina continues to ignore the local impact of how our members vote in Washington. In a state that has the second highest rate of fatalities for domestic violence, we have members of our congressional delegation vote against the reauthorization of the Violence against Women Act. Most people don’t know that. In a state that was devastated by a 1000-year flood, we had some of our members in our congressional delegation vote against the funding relief package for SC. Some people don’t know that because it hasn’t been covered. If we don’t provide a forum for the discussion of these types of issues, how will the public be educated on what our members do and how can our members adequately represent our citizens?

“I would argue that these issues have tremendous impact on this state. Yes, each member of Congress is voted upon by a small segment of the South Carolina population, but they vote on issues that affect the entire state.

“In terms of my recommendation to SCETV leadership and the commission, I totally understand, as I said earlier, the constraints of staffing and the constraints of funding but instead of a one size fits all approach, I would recommend that the network establish a process in which candidates and organizations can petition or apply to SCETV to host a debate or televised forum. The organization should develop a set of criteria that is equally applied across the board. So if you’re going to have a debate with Mark Sanford and Jenny Horne, I would ask that a similar type of debate be held for folks of other political persuasions.

“I sincerely appreciate President O’Bryon’s good faith offer to have the congressional candidates participate in a series of interviews; I think that will be tremendously helpful. But I also think we miss a tremendous opportunity by not seeing these candidates argue the merits of their positions, votes, and their values and then simply leaving it to the voters to decide the competitiveness of those contests.

“I ask the commission and SCETV to review and revise their debate criterion and to allow the interest of educating the public to be its primary determinant.

“Once again, thank you all, and I want to thank President O’Bryon. I hope we will continue to have meaningful discussions in the future. It’s been great to work with you, and I hope we can continue to work together to move the public forward.”


Source: SCDP

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