Monetizing the Public Square

ABC, sponsor of tonight’s Democratic presidential debate, has gone off the deep end:

According to the usage guidelines circulated by ABC, other news organizations are only allowed to excerpt half a minute from the broadcast.

That means choosing only one 30-second clip to use on television and the Web between 11 p.m. Wednesday and 5 a.m. Thursday. …

“We have an obligation to our West Coast affiliates to not make chunks of the debate available until their viewers have had a chance to see them,” an ABC spokesman said.

By tape-delaying the debate for its West Coast television stations, the network seems to be treating the debate as a television show rather than as a live news event. When cable news channels sponsor debates, they telecast the forums live across all time zones.

As the NYT article goes on to note, fair use doctrine probably allows circumvention of this attempted blackout. But if broadcast networks are going to package public events this way, should they count toward the various public interest obligations that networks and their affiliates are supposed to fulfill under FCC regulations?