Upstate presidential debate sparking controversy over media access

Debate stage is set at the Greenville Peace Center for the Performing Arts. / FOX Carolina

COLUMBIA (WACH, AP) - The first Republican presidential debate of the 2012 race set for Thursday evening in Greenville will not be covered by the Associated Press or Reuters due to what it describes as coverage restrictions on journalists.

The AP said Thursday it is "evaluating its coverage plans in light of the restrictions" imposed by co-sponsors Fox News Channel and the S.C. Republican Party that bar still photographers from entering the hall during the debate. According to the AP, that policy is a change from past debates when multiple AP and Reuters photographers were allowed to cover the January 2008 GOP primary debate in Myrtle Beach.

Still photographers will be allowed access to the debate hall before and after the event, according to a Fox spokesperson. Video and still photographers will be provided with a pool feed from inside the debate.

Of the roughly dozen Republicans considering running for president only five are scheduled to participate in Thursday's debate at the Greenville Peace Center for the Performing Arts.

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Slated to attend are former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and pizza magnate Herman Cain. High-profile Republicans such as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and celebrity businessman Donald Trump are not attending the party's first debate of the 2012 race.

What do you think about the controversy surrounding tonight's debate? Are you even paying attention to the race yet? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.