Portland TV licenses challenged

The Money in Politics Research Action Project today filed a challenge to the renewal of the FCC broadcast licenses of Portland's four television stations. Why? From the MIPRAP press release (pdf):

A market-wide failure to provide voters with information needed to make educated decisions on issues and candidates on their ballots. Broadcast television stations use public airwaves without paying any fees for the FCC-issues licenses in exchange for serving the 'public interest, convenience, and necessity.'

Or, as the Portland Mercury puts it: "The stations screwed the pooch when it comes to covering local elections."

During the last four weeks of the 2004 elections, Portland's local TV stations - KGW, KOIN, KATU, KPTV - broadcast a total of just 8 minutes 38 seconds of news about the Potter/Francesconi and Adams/Fish campaigns. All of the campaigns for the legislature that year totaled only 7 minutes 43 seconds of news coverage.

Not counting the presidential campaign, total political news coverage was only 5 hours and 32 minutes -- out of 520 hours of total news coverage. The complete study - covering Portland, Chicago, and Milwaukee - is here. (pdf)

The Portland Mercury points out that during 2004, those same "local stations raked in nearly $27 million in political advertising."

And, it's not about ratings. MIPRAP points out that the Hearst-Argyle group of stations managed to provide 10 minutes a day of coverage in 2006 - while maintaining high ratings in their markets:

The Advisory Committee on Public Interest Obligations of Digital Television Broadcasting recommended in 1998 that broadcasters air five minutes of candidate-centered news coverage each night in the 30 days before an election. This recommendation, often called the 5-30 standard, has not been achieved in Portland or other markets with a notable exception.

Hearst-Argyle Television Inc., which owns almost 30 stations, has met this 5-30 standard since the 2000 election season. In 2006, Hearst-Argyle increased its political coverage to 10 minutes each day in the 30 days before the election. Hearst-Argyle stations are typically top in news ratings in their markets.


  • spicey (unverified)

    go MIPRAP! it's way past time to put some pressure on these stations. yes!

  • (Show?)

    Frankly, I am so glad to hear this. I remember being in the business and asking why there were so few reporters at the Salem bureau covering the legislature and the answer I was told...people don't care about politics. It use to drive me crazy.

  • Janice Thompson (unverified)

    Links to Thursday Oregonian coverage may be of interest.

    Quotes from Bill Johnstone of the Oregon Broadcasters Association are particularly interesting:

    Johnstone vigorously defended the stations' track record of political coverage, saying the 1 percent of newscast time devoted to state and local campaigns in October 2004 gave regular TV viewers "more than our fill."

    "Very few politicians can tell the truth," and all are trained to stick to the negative scripts that make political ads so unpalatable, Johnstone said. Asking TV stations to air more stories quoting those same mud-slinging politicians would not serve the public interest, he said.

    People in the Portland area who want more information about candidates and ballot measure should look on the Internet and pay attention to political ads, not look to TV, Johnstone said.

    "Our coverage is certainly adequate, given everything else that the public has access to -- the Internet, the ads they see and hear, the billboards, the unwelcome calls from candidates," he said.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    The gall of Bill Johnstone, ha ha! The style of current day political campaigns is largely due to the way TV covers politics: soundbites, scandals, and horse races as well as the high cost of TV political ads that makes any extended discusson of issues uneconomic.

    Public interest in broacasting has been reduced to a perverse joke.

  • Ed Curtin (unverified)

    My request is for each of us to let our feelings be known to the FCC -- now and often -- that more television coverage of local elections is needed. It's a part of our civic duty, I would venture.

    Also, and speaking to the choir here, I suspect, when I was a print journalist for 14 years, I also was vice prpesident of an Oregon professional journalism society. We rarely had television attendance except when award time came around. As Marshall McLuhan said, "the medium is the message" and for television news, that message is all "image" and money.

    For the past 18 years I've taught middle grade students virtually all subjects, and I'm always appalled at the lack of community affairs discourse in the homes of my students. Kids are so unaware of government that teaching even the basics of our system is a challenge without going back to Civics 101. Of course, the kids know the latest TV fad, the police action in their neighborhoods, and entertainers galore, but who their state rep is? Nothing. Let's get to work.

  • Steven Holt (unverified)
    <h2>I read the Bill Johnstone quote with a disgust bordering on despair at the sheer arrogance displayed. Instead of fighting this they could try doing some actual journalism with an editorial dissection of the issues in these speeches that finds something more than the inconsequential 5 or 6 second sound byte that at present swings elections in the present vacuum of substance. Think of the Dean scream here. These indefensibly pathetic stats deserve to have all stations forced to air both a significant dose of real news and substantial free airtime chunks should be given to all the candidates that qualify for the ballot. Boy do I miss the fairness doctrine with 50% boring dweebs spouting their ignorant foolishness but not a bit of hair spray in sight.</h2>
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