A coalition of media and citizen groups announced the formation today of the Indiana Debate Commission, a non-partisan group dedicated to sponsoring and producing political debates that are open, unbiased and transparent for Hoosier voters.
A diverse group of individuals has been meeting since February this year to develop widely accessible and uniform standards for political candidates in debate forums. The group has been hosted by the Indiana Coalition for Open Government (ICOG), www.indianacog.org, which was founded in 1995 with the input of both citizens and journalists.
To date, 12 statewide and local groups have signed on and agree with the mission statement of the organization. Indiana Debate Commission affiliates include:
• Indiana Coalition for Open Government
• Indiana Associated Press Managing Editors
• Indianapolis Association of Black Journalists
• Indiana Associated Press Broadcasters Association
• Marion County Alliance of Neighborhood Associations
• The Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations
• The Indiana Broadcasters Foundation
• Indiana Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists
• League of Women Voters of Indiana
• The Radio-Television News Directors Association
• Hoosier State Press Association
• Indiana State Bar Association
“Never before have we witnessed this level of cooperation in a competitive media climate to promote additional access for the public at large,” said Terri Jett, chair of the political science department at Butler University who represents ICOG. “By serving as a non-partisan advisory group, the commission hopes to prevent any issues that may have hindered debates in the past.”
As of today, donations to the commission have been received from the Indiana Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Indiana State Bar Association. The basic cost to provide a broadcast of a single debate runs about $5,000—mostly in personnel and equipment costs.
The commission is interested in providing venues and support for a minimum of three debates for gubernatorial candidates in 2008, likely after the primary.
Those wishing to host a debate of for the 2008 gubernatorial candidates also will be able to use the commission’s Web site at www.indianadebatecommission.com to submit venue options that will be reviewed for optimum debate conditions.
Both commercial and public broadcasters are involved in the commission.
“While candidates and incumbents can certainly choose not to debate, we are encouraging and fostering a free exchange of political ideas in the broadest means possible so that the option is widely available,” said Phil Meyer, station manager for WTIU-TV in Bloomington, Ind., who represents The Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations.
As an in-kind contribution to the IDC’s efforts, the board of The Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations also voted to provide pool coverage of the first gubernatorial debate.
The largest journalism group in the nation, the Indianapolis-based Society of Professional Journalists, believes the IDC can serve as a model to the rest of the country for those interested in candid political discourse and the best working debate models.
“This is an interesting experiment for public outreach,” said Christine Tatum, immediate past president of national SPJ. “Not only are we active participants in planning and funding, but we hope that other journalists step to the forefront and are able to avoid the normal competitive pressures in exclusive media control and sponsorship of debates—which can also be problematic for candidates.”
The commission will seek application with the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(3) and is incorporated with the Indiana Secretary of State.
William Nangle, a longtime Freedom of Information advocate in Indiana newspaper circles and executive editor of The Times of Northwest Indiana, said providing a debate forum is equally important for print and broadcast media.
“It is the single most important opportunity citizens have to attend a debate in person and see candidates under pressure on the hot topics of the day and judge a candidate’s capabilities,” Nangle said. “In today’s media world, there are no walls between broadcast and print. All media platforms provide opportunities for candidate to reach the public—and for the public to reach candidates.”
The IDC also has briefed representatives of various state political parties; Republican, Democrat and Libertarian officials. All are aware of the goals of the commission and will continue to be consulted for input as the commission officially forms with the election of its directors in January 2008. Once the board is elected in January, working committees will be put in place to establish standards.
About the Indiana Debate Commission
The Indiana Debate Commission is a non-partisan, statewide group of affiliate organizations dedicated to promoting debates at the state level. Incorporated in the fall of 2007, the IDC will work with candidates, sponsors, venues and citizen groups to promote open, unbiased and transparent debates for Hoosier voters. For more information: www.indianadebatecommission.com