[EDITORIALS]Voters tune out debates

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[EDITORIALS]Voters tune out debates

The television debates among this year's presidential candidates are not drawing much attention from the public. Ratings are poor, with one survey showing the average rating to be 5.6 percent, less than half that of the average rating during the 1997 presidential election.

Television debates are supposed to be the core of a media-oriented election. They were seen as the alternative to the money-consuming and superficial crowd-mobilizing mass meetings that used to define campaigns. The debates were meant to provide the voters with a chance to evaluate the policies, qualifications and vision of the candidates. The low ratings show that they are not working.

Why is most of the public so indifferent? Watching the debates organized by the three major television networks, a viewer notes quickly that instead of a real debate, the format is one of the same answers to the same questions. It would take a very patient viewer to put up with the shallow content. The candidates subtly evade difficult questions, and that is also a problem that only the host and panelists can remedy. Some panelists do not even seem to be able to digest the questions properly, let alone show any insight into the answers.

There are also signs of favoritism by some panelists to some candidates, and viewers obviously react badly to that.

With mass gatherings discouraged in this year's presidential election, the television debates are almost the only channel of direct communications between the candidates and the voters. Television networks should concentrate on presenting proper debates that enhance the decisive role they have been asked to play. If the indifference to the television debates continues, it is questionable whether the official candidates' debates to be held at the end of this month will attract any attention.

The committee in charge of preparing the debates should look closely at the panels they put together, at the questions and the agenda issues and prepare a well-knit program. More effort is required of the television networks if this year's presidential election is to be one based on a competition of policies, visions and qualifications.
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