By Rich Bockmann
There was no reason for Queens Public Television to flip-flop on plans to air its borough president debate because the station was not required to invite third-party candidate Everly Brown in the first place, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
QPTV originally said it would not show the debate it produced Oct. 10 between Republican Tony Arcabascio and Democrat Melinda Katz because of a technical issue that occurred during the taping, later clarifying that the decision was made over concerns of providing equal access to Brown, who is running on the Jobs & Education line.
After Arcabascio accused the station of shelving the debate for political reasons, however, QPTV backtracked and said it had done its due diligence by extending an invitation to Brown and announced the program would be cablecast in its entirety.
“One candidate for the office of Queens Borough President, Mr. Everly Brown, was invited to take part in the debate but failed to participate, thereby forfeiting his equal access or ‘equal time’ to our channel,” Clifford Jacobs, QPTV’s programming and access services manager, said in a statement. “Once invited, it is incumbent upon the candidate to appear.”
When it comes to selling advertising slots or hosting debates, TV stations are required by the Federal Communications Act to provide equal opportunities to political candidates. But a spokesman for the FCC said the rules are clear that a debate need only have two participants and that the burden rests on the shoulders of a third-party candidate to prove he or she has a viable shot at office.
The spokesman said the FCC has not received any complaints from candidates who felt they were unfairly discriminated against in nearly 40 years.
Brown said he is furious QPTV decided to air the contest and insists he was never invited.
“That’s not right. That’s wrong. There are still three candidates,” he said. “They need to show proof they invited me.”
When asked twice if the station could prove it had sent an invitation, Jacobs referred to a Queens Chronicle article in which Brown reportedly said he had been invited but missed the debate because of a change in the taping schedule.
Brown told TimesLedger Newspapers he never made such a statement.
Arcabascio said he thought he outperformed Katz, the presumed frontrunner, during their back-and-forth in front of the cameras and accused QPTV of bowing to pressure from Queens Democrats who did not want voters to see the debate. QPTV denied the accusation and said the decision was entirely theirs.
Arcabascio said he is happy voters finally got to see him in action.
“My contention was all along that if they offered him the opportunity to attend and he didn’t show, then he forfeited his opportunity. They insisted it doesn’t work that way,” he said. “The reality is they knew what was going to happen all along. They only had two podiums set up. Whatever happened, the past is the past. I’m glad they decided to air it.”
Katz said she was happy the show would finally see the light of day, but added she did not see what the big controversy was.
“It’s ridiculous. I don’t think anyone really cared whether they aired it or not,” she said. “We’ve done probably over 100 forums in this race. There has been ample opportunity for folks to see all of us.”
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.