According to the Communications Act of 1934, since the airwaves belong to the public, television stations must operate in the "public interest, convenience and necessity."
ABC, CBS and NBC believe that airing reruns of drama shows fulfill that obligation better than covering the Republican and Democratic Conventions. Only the last three nights of both conventions have been deemed worthy to receive one hour of airtime per night. And before Monday's schedule in Tampa was cancelled because of weather concerns, network viewers would have missed all of the keynote speeches, including one by Ann Romney originally scheduled for Monday night, and then moved to Tuesday when news of the network blackout was announced.
CBS believed that a rerun of Hawaii Five-O was more in the public interest than a Presidential nominating convention, held once every four years. NBC and ABC planned to show new episodes of Grimm and Castle, instead of Monday's convention events.
PBS deserves credit for their four hours of coverage each night. And CSPAN is the gold standard with gavel to gavel coverage without the incessant chatter of talking heads. CNN covers much more than the networks, but also is weighed down by the pundit panels. And tens of millions of Americans do not have cable or satellite access.
NBC, CBS and ABC owe it to the American people, and to the requirements of the licenses granted to its stations, to show every night of the convention in its entirety, not just a one hour block on three of the four nights.
To those who say conventions aren't news because they are so tightly scripted, that would be an argument not to cover political campaigns at all, since very little is left to spontaneity.
But even a manipulative, choreographed and etch-a-sketched convention can be a useful tool for viewers to determine who they support for President. The choice of speakers, message and tone, while calculated, can still offer guidance to the American voter.
Showing reruns in primetime is far more lucrative than convention coverage. But if the three major networks want to avoid rightful challenges to the licenses of its stations, they should accept their mandated responsibility to serve the public interest and not just their bottom line.