Midwest Groups Challenge FCC & Congress

In this update: 1. Reform alliance issues plea for broadcaster accountability 2. New Web site puts spotlight on untold story of inequality 3. A new American media contract 4. Truth telling in short supply Midwest Groups Challenge FCC & Congress

Email date: 6/12/07

In this update:
1. Reform alliance issues plea for broadcaster accountability
2. New Web site puts spotlight on untold story of inequality
3. A new American media contract
4. Truth telling in short supply

Political reform groups from throughout the Great Lakes region banded together today to call on the Federal Communications Commission and Congress to upgrade and better enforce the public interest obligations of local televison broadcasters.

The plea for broadcaster accountability comes from a new alliance of groups calling itself the Midwest Democracy Network. To read more about this regional initiative, go here.

Today’s action follows in the wake of the recent release of the latest Midwest News Index findings showing that TV stations in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin aired pitifully little coverage of elections and government in the first quarter of 2007.

That report marked the first-ever systematic analysis of local television coverage of government outside of an election period. It showed that stations did next to nothing to cover government affairs, airing a paltry 1 minute, 35 seconds of non-election government coverage in a typical 30-minute newscast across the five-state region and even less than that in Wisconsin. Madison stations devoted an average of 1 minute, 24 seconds to non-election government news while Milwaukee stations averaged 1 minute, 11 seconds.

Unlike most of the states in the Great Lakes region, Wisconsin did have elections for nonpartisan offices that should have warranted coverage during the first quarter of 2007 – the February 20 primary and the April 3 general election. Along with races for local offices, there was a high-profile state Supreme Court race that turned out to be the most expensive and ugliest in state history. Yet local TV stations largely ignored the elections, with Madison stations devoting a mere 29 seconds in an average 30-minute newscast to election coverage and Milwaukee stations airing an average of only 10 seconds.

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Elections and government are not alone in taking a back seat to advertising, sports, weather and crime coverage on local TV news. Stories about growing inequality in America, a phenomenon with a strong local dimension, are nowhere to be seen.

A new Web site, Inequality.org aims to do something about the lack of attention paid to this problem.

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Local TV’s abandonment of its public interest obligations inspired one federal official, FCC commissioner Michael Copps, to suggest that it’s time for a new American Media Contract.

To add your voice to the debate over the future of our media, go here.

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It’s been said that truth is the first casualty of war. It’s also undeniably a casualty of media consolidation. No wonder there is such a large and growing audience for the Daily Show and the Onion. There’s more truth to be found in the satire of this "fake" news than there is in the "real" news on local TV, where audiences are expected to believe that advertising, sports, weather and crime are the most important things in our world.

The shortage of truth telling is the subject of our latest Big Money Blog.