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post #1 of 1 Old 02-15-2005, 02:41 PM - Thread Starter
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Critical Study Looks at Local TV Political News
By JACQUES STEINBERG The New York Times February 14, 2005
In the month leading up to last year's presidential election, local television stations in big cities devoted eight times as much air time to car crashes and other accidents than to campaigns for the House of Representatives, state senate, city hall and other local offices, according to a new study to be released tomorrow.

The study - which was carried out by researchers at the University of Wisconsin and Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., and led by the Norman Lear Center at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California - analyzed more than 4,000 local newscasts that were broadcast in 11 major markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Miami, in the four weeks before the election. It found that 8 percent of those broadcasts included a report about a local race. By contrast, more than half those broadcasts contained a report on the presidential race.

The apparent disparity between local and national political coverage at the local level is being added to the debate over how many television stations a company may own. Last week, the researchers filed their report with the Federal Communications Commission, which is in the midst of an inquiry into easing local ownership rules. The study will be formally presented tomorrow at a news conference hosted by Senator John McCain of Arizona, a critic of efforts to ease restrictions on media ownership.

"I think most stations fear that covering politics is ratings poison," said Martin Kaplan, associate dean of the Annenberg School and one of the lead authors of the study. "Interestingly, they don't seem to fear that running a torrent of political ads hurts them with their audience." Mr. Kaplan, who hosts a weekly program on "Air America," a liberal talk radio network, and his colleagues found that in the 11 markets studied, the hours of advertising by House candidates eclipsed actual coverage of those races by a ratio of 5 to 1.

Among the study's most jarring findings was in the Seattle market, where in the month before the gubernatorial election, which would turn out to be razor thin, 95 percent of the newscasts analyzed by the researchers had no reports on the race. "Time spent on teasers, bumpers and intro music in Seattle outnumbered time covering the Washington gubernatorial race by 14 to 1," the researchers wrote.

In an attempt to showcase stations that did focus on local politics, Mr. Kaplan and his colleagues - Ken Goldstein, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Matthew Hale, an assistant professor at Seton Hall - cited WFAA, the ABC affiliate in Dallas. The station devoted more than 15 percent of its campaign coverage to local races, more than double the national average of 6 percent, the researchers found.

"It's easier, quite frankly, to cover car wrecks, murders and spot news," said Cliff Williams, managing editor of WFAA. "It takes more time, it takes more manpower, to do politics. But we believe our viewers expect that coverage."

Broadcasters Fire Back at Critical Report
By Todd Shields February 15, 2005
Broadcasters on Tuesday called a report critical of TV’s political news coverage "disappointing," as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) pointed to the study as a reason for tougher broadcast licensing standards.

The report by the Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California found evening TV newscasts contained little coverage of local political campaigns in 2004.

“The Lear Center review is disappointing on so many levels that it would be a disservice to the academic community to label this legitimate research,†the National Association of Broadcasters said.

The broadcasters’ group said the researchers failed to count important morning, midday and Sunday shows, and failed to consider that "the vast majority" of races of U.S. House seats were non-competitive.

McCain, who spoke at a Capitol Hill news conference Tuesday with Lear Center director Martin Kaplan, said he intended to introduce a bill shortening from eight to three years the period of time between broadcast license renewals. The bill also would make it easier for citizens to challenge license renewals, and require broadcasters to publicly report what programming they produce that meets obligations to cover news and other local affairs.

"I think citizens deserve more than they're getting from their local newscasters," McCain said.

McCain Wants to Reduce License Term to Three Years
By Doug Halonen February 15, 2005
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., unveiled legislation Tuesday to cut the license terms of broadcasters from eight years to three, a measure the lawmaker said is intended to let the public and Federal Communications Commission keep closer tabs on the industry's public interest programming.

Under the measure, broadcasters would also be required to cite on station Web sites the programming they have aired to meet their public interest obligations.

The legislation was announced in response to a study released Tuesday by the Lear Center Local News Archive suggesting that local TV newscasts gave short shrift to local political races in 2004. According to the study, which analyzed Big 4 TV station newscasts in 11 markets between Oct. 4 and Nov. 1, 64 percent of the broadcasts included at least one election story.

But according to the study, 55 percent of the broadcasts featured a story about the presidential race, while only 8 percent looked at a local race. "Eight times more coverage went to stories about accidental injuries, and 12 times more coverage to sports and weather, than to coverage of all local races combined," the report said.

In a statement, the National Association of Broadcasters criticized the study for failing to count the political coverage in morning, midday and late-night programming. "Americans get their news 24/7, yet Lear researchers only counted political coverage between the hours of 5 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.," the NAB said.

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