Free Debates: MSNBC

MSNBC wrote to me to say that the policy I quoted them as having respecting the Presidential Debates is not, in fact, their policy. We’re having a constructive conversation about what the policy should be. Meanwhile, here’s their statement to me.

As the producers of two Presidential Candidates’ debates so far this year, NBC NEWS, MSNBC and believe strongly in our public interest obligations and the importance of a robust political dialogue on the internet.

The MSNBC / GOP Debate and the MSNBC Democratic Candidates debate were both aired commercial free on MSNBC cable. In addition, the debates were streamed live in their entirety at our free website, where both debates continue to be available through election day 2008 for streaming, in their entirety as well as in segments. The GOP debate also streamed live at Other news organizations as well as news and information websites are free to use substantial portions of both debates on their television, radio, and internet platforms. (Specific usage information has been released separately by NBC media relations.)

In the weeks ahead and until Election Day 2008, we will continue to make our coverage widely available on many platforms, and we welcome the ongoing conversation on ways to bring these important events to an even broader audience of Americans.

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17 Responses to Free Debates: MSNBC

  1. lostnihilist says:

    Having tried to view the debates from their website before, I can say they are not exactly in a universal format. My computer refuses to play them. That /might/ be forgivable, given that I’m using linux. However, my friends WinXP machine would also not play them. These are some technical reasons to open the licensing up: Allow the video to get on to a larger set of platforms.

  2. three blind mice says:

    These are some technical reasons to open the licensing up: Allow the video to get on to a larger set of platforms.

    lol. the real reason for this rabid assault on MSNBC is to make it possible for YouTube to have something to attach ITS advertising to without having to invest in creating their own original content.

    nothing more and nothing less.

    bravo MSNBC for not bowing down to the “free culture” mob and for standing up for your rights and thereby defending the rights of all original artists and authors.

    fight the power!

  3. Peter Rock says:

    Lostnihilist says:

    That /might/ be forgivable, given that I�m using linux.

    Please explain.


    three blind mice says:

    “[…] the real reason for this rabid assault on MSNBC is to make it possible for YouTube […]”

    If the debate requires proprietary software in order to view/make changes to it, democracy is weakened and human rights violated as participation, privacy, and freedom of speech lose their best defense. Youtube is not enough. The nature (aka “content”) of the work is not just useful but vital social information. So much so that Youtube actually falls tremendously short of what we need in this situation. Anyone thinking that the debates on “Youtube” means a win for democracy is extremely short-sighted. Sure, they can appear on Youtube – that’s not a problem. But if that’s the only place they are, citizens are at risk. The debates’ copyright status could stll take a variety of forms (care to discuss?) but the following must be true…

    The debates must,

    A) Be licensed appropriately so that sharing, changing and distributing the debates (or any new user-generated works thereafter) is not in violation of copyright law.


    B) If not public domain, be encoded and released in a free file format. OGG would be an example of one. FLASH (what Youtube currently implements) would be in contrast to this.

    If the company producing the files refuses these demands, they should be replaced with a company that will meet the demands (or if all else fails, the people should do it themselves). Anything less falls short of democracy.

  4. Timon says:

    I took a hilarious screenshot of what happens if you naively try to watch the debates on a free system. (Actually, I have the flash plugin but I think you need a non-linux-supported version or who knows what.) The text is something to the effect of: “In order to view this, you must install free software.” (By which they mean, you can’t use free software!) It’s here:

  5. Peter Rock says:

    lostnihilist says:

    These are some technical reasons to open the licensing up: Allow the video to get on to a larger set of platforms.

    According to Timon’s screenshot, you can watch the debates on GNU/Linux but that is not relevant.

    The “platform” is not what is important here. It is the whole system. That is, not just the operating system, but the media player itself and any other dependency needed to fully access the file.

    This is not a “Linux” issue. It is an issue of freedom and democracy. This is not an “open source” issue either. It is a free software issue (not the “free” MSNBC refers to in the screenshot, but free as in liberty). Do you see why?

  6. Peter Rock says:

    Here’s an example of a political debate released in a way that respects democracy…

    1. The file is under a CC-BY license.
    2. The video/audio codecs for the file are free software and legally implementable (i.e. doesn’t require royalties) by any software developer (e.g. Theora or Dirac and Vorbis)
    3. The file is contained in a free container format (e.g. OGG)
    4. The file is playable by free software media players (e.g. Democracy Player, MPlayer, VLC)
    5. The media player is usable on a free platform (e.g. GNU/Linux and the BIOS or any other required firmware) and through free software drivers needed for video and sound hardware.

    If this is the situation, proprietary vendors will be free to release their own derived versions where they can require all the proprietary tools they want to require…if they feel inclined to do so. So long as citizens have the choice, there’s no problem that I can see.

    But surely I’ve missed some things. ?

  7. Sarab Singh says:

    i was looking for the url to the debates for some time. i don’t expect to learn too much, except to judge on some superficial level how sincere/genuine the candidates are.

    i guess i am also interested to hear what issues are stressed, and how they are communicated. other things i am looking for: candidness (or apparent candidness), self-reflection, personal attacks, hard facts referenced, rhetorical pleas, body language

  8. Jardinero1 says:

    I am really confused. Is this about being able to watch the debates or about democracy or about copyright. To those who merely want to watch the debates, I would suggest you block the time out of your calendar and tune in and watch. In lieu of that, set your VCR to record it.

    It wasn’t that many years ago that those were your only choices. Not too many years before that you didn’t have even that capability. An interesting fact is that with each leap in technological access fewer people watch the debates. Go figure, with greater access – less viewership. If viewership is your measure of participation then democracy seemed to function better then, than now.

  9. Peter Rock says:

    jardinero1 asks:

    Is this about being able to watch the debates or about democracy or about copyright.

    It’s about free speech. The technology of today offers an opportunity for average citizens to participate in ways not possible before the 21st century.

    An All Rights Reserved copyright on the debates implies that a citizen remixing and redistributing new material based on those debates may face prosecution. That’s not just.

    A debate released in a proprietary format (e.g. WMV) implies forcing citizens to use proprietary software in order to view or remix those debates. Proprietary software puts users at risk. It’s one thing to cajole consumers into downloading the latest media player so that they are able to watch the latest Britney Spears video but quite another to force citizens to install a proprietary media player so that they may fully participate in the democratic process.

    Technology can enhance participation but only if that technology is accessible (from the source code up) and the associated content is licensed appropriately. If this is true, then you have free speech.

  10. ACS says:

    I am really confused. Is this about being able to watch the debates or about democracy or about copyright

    Jairdeno- you are certainly correct in one sense in that there is a definite enlargement of democracy by the mere publication of the debates.

    The problem raised by Peter Rock et al (under the hyperbole that “Democracy is stifled by intellectual property ownership”) is a furphy. There is no reason why taking small portions of the debates and using them in other works would not be protected under the “Fair Use” (or in Australia “Fair Dealing”) defence as “criticism or review”. Freedom of speech is not impeded here at all, furthermore, the broadcasters have made serious (and expensive) concessions to allow for the broadcast of their material on more than just television (where they make a profit).

    Rocks complaint actually relates to the file format that the works will be released on. Peter and co wish to make “mashups” of the debates or watch them on their linux systems which do not, apparently, support the file formats used by the broadcasters.

    There is, of course, no requirement on the broadcasters to release their footage on any particular format, that is a question for them. The copyright argument is, if anything, a bad disguise for the open source community to complain about proprietary software – yet again.

    Just ignore it – it will go away.

  11. Jardinero1 says:

    ACS – Thanks for the enlightenment. Just in case anyone merely wants to “watch” the debates again or missed it the first time; I would be happy to loan my VHS copy.

  12. Peter Rock says:

    ACS says:

    There is no reason why taking small portions of the debates[…]”

    The amount (a fair use measure I do believe) should not even be a consideration. These debates should be considered as much owned by the public as they are the broadcasters. These are political debates, not expressions of art!

    “[…] furthermore, the broadcasters have made serious (and expensive) concessions to allow for the broadcast of their material on more than just television (where they make a profit).

    I suppose what I find most disturbing (given the context) is the idea of putting private for-profit interest ahead of the public. A possible approach to this whole process would be to pass a law stating that any coverage of a public political debate must be released under an appropriate CC license or to the public domain. As well, a law stating that at least one primary broadcaster of those debates be the government itself so that an appropriate file format can be legislated because as ACS says,

    There is, of course, no requirement on the broadcasters to release their footage on any particular format, that is a question for them

    Or does that sound more like something those crazy Canadians might consider?

  13. Jardinero1 says:

    There oughtta be a law…. MSNBC doesn’t have to broadcast a debate if it doesn’t want to. Nobody in this thread has demonstrably proven that freely distributing the debates furthers any public or political interest. At least, not marginally more than airing them once on MSNBC in the first place. It’s axiomatic at best. Empirically, it is untrue, there have been fewer viewers per event with each technological leap in access.

    There is nothing prohibiting you from recording the debates on your VCR. Make a copy on your VCR if you want to watch it over and over again, ad nauseum. Or borrow mine.

  14. Florence McFarlane says:

    questions for debate: it seems that the democrats and some republicans want to make the 20 million or more illegals citizens plus millions more legal. What are they going to do about water in California with the drought going on for years? what are they going to do about transportation with most illegals in California–millions of people sit on our roads wasting gasoline because our roads are parking lots? When are they going to address the issue of the republicans–the republicans get all stressed if a few cells get killed with drugs or abortion but couldn’t care less about all the children here living in poverty and abusive situations, plus it’s ok to kill our military members and half the population of Iraq–these are living human beings, not just a few cells?
    Hopefully some of these questions get answered. Florence mcFarlane Fullerton Calif.

  15. jaynicks says:

    October 30.

    Linux won’t play the MSNBC debates (PCLinux OS, updated, FireFox and Opera)

    Windows XP in Firefox displays a static error message saying something like “No such video”

    On my system only XP/IE plays the debates.

    By the by, on all systems the advertisements stream just fine so it is not much of a technical issue.

    It makes the Dems look really technically ignorant, to be nice about it..

  16. Billy Lott says:

    I have been closely watching the Bill & Hilary Clinton Presidential campaign, and I am convinced that the Clintons interjected race into the campaign to marginalize Obama. I am both shocked and hurt that Bill Clinton would lead the charge – the Unofficial First Black President.
    I am convinced that the Clintons empolyed this race strategy to crpple Obama. In a campaign based on race, the Clintons know that Obama can’t win! Once Obama has been defeated, the Clintons will arrogantly return to the African American community and blame Obama’s defeat on “other racist.”
    If this is the case, I hope every Black person in America – not stay at home in Novemeber, but rather, go to the polls and vote for the Republican candidate! Send a message to the Clintons – stop taking the Black vote for granted. In a race conscious society, the African American vote isn’t large enough to win the U.S. Presidency by itself – but it is large enough to prevent the Clintons from winning . . .
    I expected the Republicans to raise the race issue – but not Bill Clinton.



  17. Peter in Dallas says:

    “A good storyteller is a person who has a good memory and hopes other people haven’t.”
    -Irvin S. Cobb

    Senator Hillary Clinton is really the one with all speeches and no results. She claims that she has been fighting for poor people for 35 years. According to U.S. Census bureau, Arkansas state ranked 49th in people with college degree (almost dead-last) and 6th in people living below poverty level. The truth is: technology boom did far more for the good economy of the 90’s than Bill Clinton. For example, Mark Cuban became a billionaire within 4 years! Billary have nothing to do with it.
    If Billary cannot lift a small state like Arkansas out of poverty, how can they do it in Ohio and Texas?
    Bill and Hillary need to come up with a different line of attack apart from experience. Obama actually have more total legislative experience (Illinois and Washington) than Hillary. Billary have talked about experience so much, you will think Senator Obama just graduated from college in 2007 instead of 20 years ago.

    CNN (aka Clinton News Network) and other media outlets covered plagiarism charge made by the Clintons at least 100 times more than when Hillary humiliated herself by shop lifting words from Bill Clinton and John Edwards on the same night.
    CNN covers Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton campaign at least twice as much as they cover Barack and Michelle Obama.
    Same CNN and other media outlets drank the Clinton Kool-aid causing them to believe that the media favor Obama over Clinton. Go figure!!

    Auto insurance is mandatory in Texas and most states, yet many drivers in Texas do not have it. Just because Hillary mandate health insurance does not mean everyone will partake. Robert Reich, former labor secretary for Bill Clinton, studied both Senator Obama & Hillary plan – he concluded that Senator Obama’s health-care plan will cover more people.

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