TV networks protest Dems' decision to give MSNBC exclusive convention access

C-SPAN, Fox News, CBS News, CNN and ABC News have joined forces to formally protest the South Carolina Democratic Party’s decision to give MSNBC exclusive access to air live coverage on Saturday of its 2019 convention that will feature at least 21 of the party’s 2020 presidential hopefuls.

MSNBC has live broadcast rights, which comes with a three-hour embargo on footage for reporters from other outlets -- but five major networks are calling for the decision to be reversed.

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C-SPAN Programming Vice President Terry Murphy, Fox News Washington Bureau Chief Bryan Boughton and D.C. bureau chiefs from CBS, CNN and ABC signed a letter on Thursday addressed to state Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson -- and also sent to Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez and House Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn.

“South Carolina is a critical state in the presidential nominating process and your convention is the largest gathering to date of 2020 Democratic candidates,” the letter said. “We believe it should be made available to every accredited media outlet without embargoes, restrictions or other limitations.”

The letter said “political parties have always had a tradition of open media access,” but the South Carolina Democrats' decision to restrict live coverage to MSNBC is the “antithesis of openness.”

“It is also concerning that it could set a precedent that would end up seriously limiting citizen access to other key presidential electoral events,” the letter stated. “We ask that you reverse this decision and allow your state party convention to proceed without any restrictions.”

The South Carolina Democratic Party will allow MSNBC pundits Al Sharpton and Joy Reid exclusive access to 2020 presidential hopefuls.

The South Carolina Democratic Party will allow MSNBC pundits Al Sharpton and Joy Reid exclusive access to 2020 presidential hopefuls.

A state Democratic Party insider told Fox News that MSNBC did not pay for the exclusive rights but will cover production costs. The insider also said that the liberal network plans to have Joy Reid and Al Sharpton broadcast from inside the convention, and many 2020 candidates will speak to the MSNBC hosts following their on-stage remarks.

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Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro, John Delaney, Bill de Blasio, Tulsi Gabbard, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Elizabeth Warren, Eric Swalwell and Bernie Sanders are among the high-profile candidates scheduled to speak at the event that will only air live on MSNBC.

Following their appearances on the network, candidates are permitted to speak to other members of the press. But the arrangement with MSNBC has angered C-SPAN executives, as similar events are typically open to all news organizations for live coverage.

Earlier in the week, C-SPAN political editor Steve Scully told Fox News he was “really disappointed” and a “bad taste” was left in his mouth over MSNBC receiving the exclusive access.

“They’re shooting themselves in the foot,” Scully said.