Friday, December 29, 2006

OR Broadcasters Head Abdicates of Public Service

Pardon the intemperate introduction, but what bullshit is this?
Bill Johnstone, president of the Oregon Association of Broadcasters, 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."

He said asking stations to air more stories quoting mudslinging politicians would not serve the public interest. "Very few politicians can tell the truth," Johnstone said.

"Our coverage is certainly adequate," he added, "given everything else that the public has access to — the Internet, the ads they see and hear, the billboards, the unwelcome calls from candidates."
Is that really his response? We're not covering it because the politicians aren't worthy of the coverage? We're not doing our contractual duty because you can get the news elsewhere? That's locker room bulletin board material, and I know Janice Thompson at Money in Politics Research Action Project (MiPRAP for less long but not necessarily short) is clipping that quote for the hearing.

This is the first time I've ever heard the "substandard quality" argument made for a lack of political coverage. It's also an extraordinarily broad indictment of the will or skill in his clients' human resources, that they can't get a real story on candidates and the issues without showing a bunch of mudslinging. You're showing the ads, and that's where much if not most of it comes from (direct mail is even worse, but covering that isn't good TV, I agree).

So don't talk about the "controversy" over the ads. Ask what the incumbent has done for his area--are there good ones and troubled ones? Where is the money going? Who's running the campaigns (if they'd asked that question this cycle, they would have found an extraordinarily small group of people running the entire state's Republican campaign)? Who are the new people? Doesn't anyone do a fucking INTERVIEW anymore? Are the neighbors of arrestees and victims the only people TV reporters trained to ask questions of anymore?

Debates at the legislative level took place all over the state, seemingly every night in October somewhere. If nothing else, can you not cover the simultaneous appearance before the media and electorate of the people who will run your state? Or screw the local races; did ANY TV station do a newsteam roundtable with the gubernatorial candidates?

No one expects the FCC to do anything with this complaint, and I have to agree the simultaneous rupture of the entire Portland television market is an unlikely outcome. But there are steps before the nuclear option, and the evidence is compelling--plus now we have the defendants' spokesman telling us he believes he's relieved of the duty to cover campaigns because others are doing it for them. That's intent in my book--or really flouting of their status, because they know their licenses are ultimately safe no matter what. But revocations DO happen, and they can happen again if people become upset enough about it. Carla and I should file an amicus letter with the complaint. God knows broadcasters could use a wakeup call when it comes to using their licenses. Send your own letter!