Internet site to help citizens talk back to local television stations profiteering
on democracy while ignoring public interest
September 14, 2000
Madison - With the television industry on a record-breaking pace to take in up to $1 billion from campaign ads this year, the Alliance for Better Campaigns today launched GREEDYTV.ORG, an interactive web site that will let citizens track how much stations take in from political ad sales and how little they air candidates discussing issues, and allow visitors to the site to sound off to local broadcasters by e-mail or fax.
The grassroots effort calls on citizens to demand that the national networks and local stations air at least five minutes a night of candidates talking about issues in the month before the November 7 election, as recommended by a White House advisory panel co-chaired by CBS President Leslie Moonves. Citizens can use the new web site or call a toll-free number, 1-866-GREEDYTV.
Fewer than 50 local stations and none of the national networks - not even CBS - have indicated they will try to meet the panel’s recommendation. In Wisconsin, only one station - ABC affiliate WISN-TV Channel 12 in Milwaukee - has signed on to the national standard, dubbed "5/30."
In the first seven months of this year - the campaign preseason - local television stations in the nation’s top 75 media markets took in $211.6 million from 286,737 political ads, according to the Alliance. In Milwaukee, the state’s largest media market, the station profiting the most from political ads while doing the least to inform the public was WTMJ-TV Channel 4, the Alliance said. WTMJ took in $911,401 from 1,662 ads in the first seven months of the year. The NBC affiliate has not committed to the 5/30 standard.
In Wisconsin’s second largest market, Green Bay, WFRV-TV Channel 5 has profited the most from political ads, bringing in $279,973 from 989 ads. WFRV is closely followed by WBAY-TV Channel 2, which took in $239,796 from 767 ads. Neither WFRV, Green Bay’s CBS affiliate, nor ABC affiliate WBAY have committed to the 5/30 standard.
Monitoring of the election coverage of local stations in the Madison market before the state’s April 4 primary found the stations aired an average of only nine seconds of candidate discourse nightly. The analysis also showed that the vast majority of election stories focused on poll results, campaign strategy and other such elements of the political process rather than issues. More extensive monitoring is planned in the 30 days before the November 7 election to see if there is any improvement.
The number of political ads is expected to skyrocket this fall. PaineWebber predicts that TV stations will take in $1 billion from political ads in 2000, double the haul from 1996. Bear Stearns has projected that the industry will sell more political ads this year than fast food ads.
In launching the new grassroots effort, the Alliance is taking out paid print ads in The New York Times, Broadcasting & Cable, Roll Call and regional publications. TV Guide refused to run the ad because it was critical of the broadcast industry.
"Everybody hates political ads, except television stations," said Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and state project director of the Alliance for Better Campaigns-Wisconsin. "Candidates are raising millions of dollars in special interest money that they are handing over to broadcasters to pay for 30-second ads. While our democracy goes on the auction block, broadcasters are laughing all the way to the bank."
McCabe said the television industry not only profits from political ads, it also fights efforts to reform campaign finance laws. He cited a new report from the Center for Public Integrity, published in the current issue of Columbia Journalism Review, showing that the industry has spent $111.3 million lobbying Congress since 1996 - in part to block campaign finance reform bills that provide for free candidate air time.