NBC10 nixes plans to televise a mayoral debate because of demands from Jim Kenney’s campaign

Bailey Ken

NBC10 has withdrawn from consideration to televise a live debate between mayoral Philadelphia candidates Melissa Murray Bailey and Jim Kenney because of demands by the Kenney campaign to ban the use of reactionary camera shots of one candidate while the other candidate is talking.

In an email obtained by Billy Penn, NBC10 news director Anzio Williams and NBC10 executive producer Richard Kiss cited “the production demands of the Kenney Campaign” as the reason for why the network would no longer agree to televise the debate.

“Your request to eliminate “cut-aways” presents a significant problem for the TV partners as it is a live program.  This demand  jeopardizes the integrity of the debate and the standards of the journalistic organizations participating. Those watching at home deserve to see the reaction of a candidate, especially if the candidate speaking is making a direct reference to that person.

“I understand both campaigns previously determined the ground rules which are traditionally the format for the debate.  Determining the production elements for television portion is the responsibility of the TV partner.

“I wish we could have reached a different outcome.”

The email quoted the aspect of the candidates’ Memorandum of Understanding, asking for “no cut-aways to the candidate who is not responding to a question while his or her opponent is answering a question.”

Lauren Hitt, Kenney’s communications director, said the campaign’s lone hangup with NBC10 was its insistence on using a split-screen shot of both candidates and focusing on the candidate who was not speaking. Hitt said the Kenney campaign compromised “at least” two times with NBC but would not budge on this instance of reactionary shots. She said not allowing those shots would lead to a debate more focused on issues rather than theatrics.

“We’re really focused on providing people with an issue-oriented debate,” Hitt said. “We’re not going to get into the horse race and him vs. her that I think makes for good TV but not for a good civic discussion.”

She added that another TV station “consulted with on this issue had no problem with this at all.”

Williams said he had never heard a candidate’s team make a demand like that for a live TV debate. He said a television audience deserves to see what a candidate’s reaction is to another candidate’s viewpoints, especially if the candidate who is speaking directly references the other.

“[Kenney’s campaign] wants to control how the candidates look at each other and how they react to each other’s responses,” he said. “I think the viewers should have the opportunity to see that.”

Hitt said NBC’s decision would not affect the total number of debates planned between Kenney and Murray Bailey. Billy Penn previously reported four debates had been planned between the two candidates.

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