GROUP CITES STATIONS' SYSTEMATIC FAILURE TO COVER STATE AND LOCAL ELECTIONS
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE November 2, 2005
CONTACTS:Washington, DC:Andrew Jay Schwartzman (President, Media Access Project)firstname.lastname@example.org Chicago:Mitchell Szczepanczyk (Chicago Media Action)email@example.com Steve Macek (Chicago Media Action)630-995-6374 (cell)firstname.lastname@example.org
Washington, DC -- On Tuesday, November 1st, lawyers for media reform group Chicago Media Action (CMA) filed a formal petition with the Federal Communication Commission requesting that it deny the pending license renewal applications of nine Chicago television stations. The petition charges that the stations in question -- WBBM, WMAQ, WLS, WGN, WCIU, WFLD, WCPX, WSNS and WPWR -- fell far short of their obligations to serve the public interest by failing to provide adequate coverage of local and state elections during the 2004 campaign.
Under the terms of their licenses, television broadcasters are required to serve the public interest, convenience and necessity. Stations must renew their licenses every eight years, at which time citizens can file objections with the FCC. All of the television licenses in the state of Illinois are up for renewal this year. If the FCC grants CMA's petition, the license renewals for the nine stations would be subject to a hearing, at least part of which would be held in or near Chicago.
Chicago Media Action's petition cites a study of locally produced news programming conducted by the Center for Media and Public Affairs in support of its claims about the lack coverage of local elections in 2004. Based on a systematic review of all news and public affairs programming aired by the five highest-rated stations in the Chicago media market, the CMPA study found that just 7.8 percent of the station's newscasts during the last month of the 2004 campaign focused on elections. Some 79 percent of that election reporting dealt exclusively with the Presidential and Senate races. By contrast, U.S. House races accounted for just four percent of the stations' election coverage and Illinois House races accounted for less than one percent.
CMA's lawyer, Andrew Jay Schwartzman of the Washington, DC-based public interest law firm Media Access Project, remarked, "The FCC has repeatedly affirmed the importance of broadcasters' service to the local community. It's impossible to reconcile this emphasis on localism with the paucity of local election coverage available to Chicago voters."
"These broadcasters get to use the public airwaves for free and rake in millions of dollars every year in advertising revenue," explained CMA board member Mitchell Szczepanczyk. "The least they can do in return is provide us with the news and information we need as citizens. Yet television news in Chicago consistently ignores state and local politics. Last year, for instance, WGN-TV did not air a single story about the many hotly contested races for the Illinois State Legislature. It's a disgrace. They simply don't deserve to stay on the air."
The document filed by CMA was not the only complaint the FCC received this week against Chicago's television outlets. Also on Tuesday, Third Coast Press, a Chicago-based community newspaper and website, submitted a "petition to deny" of its own one that challenged the license renewal applications of the city's commercial television stations as well as public broadcasters WTTW and WYCC on the grounds that, among other things, the stations' news programming marginalized the voices of anti-war activists in the lea—up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
ABOUT CHICAGO MEDIA ACTION. Chicago Media Action (CMA) is a Chicago area-group dedicated to analyzing and broadening Chicago's major media and to building Chicago s independent media. In 2004, CMA issued a widely-covered study of bias on WTTW's nightly news show, "Chicago Tonight." For more information about CMA, visit www.chicagomediaaction.org
For a copy of the CMA's petition, complete with supporting documents, please visit www.chicagomediaaction.org/pdffiles/2005petition.pdf