U.S. politics piques nets across Europe

Uncertainty of first debate brings election back to fore

LONDON -- The global financial crisis may have pushed coverage of the U.S. presidential race down news agendas across most of Europe, but it's about to become a headliner across the continent once again.

The "will they, won't they" over Friday's presidential debate -- with John McCain wanting the debate postponed and Barack Obama insisting it go forward -- is pushing the candidates back to the top of the news cycle.

Cultural commentators, comedians and political analysts in the U.K. have been wondering why so much coverage should be devoted to something no one in Europe has any power to influence. But why let the inability to vote get in the way of a news story with momentum?

"It's obvious that all politics are local at the moment, and the news has been dominated by the financial crisis, much of it linked with what's happened on Wall Street," one media commentator said.

Wall Street aside, one of the biggest obstacles facing newsgatherers on the European side of the pond is the time difference, with the debates scheduled to kick off at 9 p.m. ET.

In Italy, state broadcaster RAI isn't planning "any real effort on live coverage of the debates," according to a spokesman.

"The U.S. presidential election is the perfect case of an event in one country that has an impact all over the world, including, obviously, Italy. I believe Italians are following the election quite closely," the spokesman added.

The BBC was pledging to carry live coverage of the debates beginning early Saturday morning in the U.K. on its 24-hour news channel, available to digital viewers.

The corporation also will stream the coverage live on its Web site and offer surfers live updates every few minutes.

After that, the weekend bulletins across the U.K.'s TV news and papers will devote as much time to them as any news story merits.

Germany's coverage is likely to be more modest than the Obama-mania witnessed in July when the Democratic contender spoke in front of thousands in Berlin.

Public broadcasters ARD and ZDF will carry the debate live, with simultaneous translation and postdebate commentary. But the commercial nets are treating the event as a standard news item, with no additional coverage planned.

"There's a bit of a lull in the coverage right now. I don't think the debate is of such great interest (to Germans) that we have to carry it live," an RTL spokesman said. "We'll bump up our coverage again in the final days of the campaign and will be all over the election itself."

RTL, together with news channels n-tv and CNN, is throwing an election party in Berlin on Nov. 4 and will broadcast the results live as the votes are counted.

Spanish pubcaster TVE is pulling put all the stops for its coverage of the U.S. elections. In addition to an increase in pieces filed by the broadcaster's regular U.S.-based correspondents during news programming, the channel will cover the election night party at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid.

In addition to airing all four presidential and vice presidential debates live, TVE has prepared its own special reports including "Obama or McCain: Change in the White House" and "USA: Ghosts of Slavery."

"We're going all out," TVE president Luis Fernandez said. "Our all-encompassing coverage is to bring the Spanish citizen closer to the democratic U.S. elections, not just covering the news and debates but also examining the content of the candidates' positions. It is important."

Regular programming also will dedicate special editions to election coverage including features on the legacy of President George W. Bush and the complexities of the U.S. electoral system. On Nov. 4, TVE will air NBC's "The Candidates."

And in France, the U.S. election continues to be a hot topic.

The country's main public TV network, France 2, planned to air the debates complete with translations early Saturday morning France time, just a couple of hours after the live broadcasts. The network also will air the Joe Biden/Sarah Palin debate, and, as of Oct. 20, will devote 15 minutes of every 8 p.m. primetime news program to election coverage.

"French people are very interested in these elections. If you took a poll of the French population, 90% of them would vote for Barack Obama. This is an election that is fascinating for all of Europe, especially in France," France 2's deputy news editor Etienne Leenhardt said.

Scott Roxborough in Cologne, Germany, Rebecca Leffler in Paris, Pamela Rolfe in Madrid and Eric J. Lyman in Rome contributed to this report.
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