South Carolina Democratic Party convention exclusive live TV rights to MSNBC

The South Carolina Democratic Party has granted exclusive live television rights to its convention this weekend to cable network MSNBC, South Carolina Democratic Party Trav Robertson said Wednesday.

The decision bars national outlets such as C-SPAN, Fox and CNN, as well as local outlets, from covering the event with live footage, even on social media, according to an email obtained by The Greenville News. Media outlets also are barred from airing footage from the event until three hours after the close of the convention, according to the email.

That means, outside of cable subscribers to MSNBC, voters in South Carolina and elsewhere won’t be able to watch the convention where 21 Democratic presidential hopefuls will make speeches until after the event is over.

Asked why the party would limit live coverage of its convention to one cable outlet, Robertson wouldn’t answer, saying only that Fox, CNN and other outlets haven’t been barred from bringing cameras to cover the event and could have rebroadcast rights forever after the event concluded. 

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“We spoke to several networks about this, and MSNBC was the network that decided they wanted to move forward with this,” Robertson said. “The fact is that the Joy Reid Show as well as the Rev. Al Sharpton Show have a significantly higher African-American viewership or audience, so it seemed to be a fit for this specific convention.

“But most importantly you’ve got a situation here where every presidential candidate who speaks has got their seven minutes broadcast by MSNBC and then they’re going to do a stand-up.”

“There’s no signed document here,” Robertson said. 

There is, however, an email sent to credentialed media that says in bold print that MSNBC has the exclusive live rights to broadcast the convention, and “any footage of the convention taken by other outlets may not be aired live, and is EMBARGOED FOR THREE HOURS after the close of the convention.” The words “embargoed for three hours” are in bold red font.

“We would like for the organization that said ‘We’re going to come in and cover all of our candidates running for president’ the opportunity to have the investment that they’ve made with this,” Robertson said.

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He said more than 100 media outlets are credentialed to cover the convention. 

“We wanted to create an opportunity that was positive for the people of South Carolina, the candidates who were coming in to South Carolina and, most importantly, an opportunity to make South Carolina shine,” Robertson said. 

The decision drew criticism from C-SPAN Political Director Steve Scully, who told The Washington Examiner, “Never has what is an open event given exclusive rights to a single network.” He said the convention would be old news by the time C-SPAN would be allowed to air it and said the state’s Democratic Party was shooting itself in the foot by barring Fox, CNN and C-SPAN from coverage, since all planned to air parts of the convention live.

For example. C-SPAN aired the entirety of the Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame Dinner two weeks ago, Scully told The Examiner.

The decision also drew criticism Wednesday from media critics and personalities concerned that the state’s Democratic Party would limit access for potential voters and would pick the outlets it wants to cover its events. 

“This. Is. Wrong. Can’t help but wonder how journalists – including NBC’s – feel about a world in which parties choose which reporters and org’s are allowed to cover them,” tweeted mark Lukasiewicz, who is the Dean of the Lawrence Herbert School of Communications at Hofstra University.

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