Groups Urge TV Stations to Stand Tall on Election and Public Affairs Coverage

Letter to broadcasters notes project to track coverage in Milwaukee, Madison

June 29, 2006

Logo: League of Women VotersLogo: Common Cause in WisconsinLogo: Wisconsin Democracy Campaign

Madison - Three public interest advocacy groups today challenged Wisconsin television broadcasters to significantly boost coverage of the 2006 elections and election-related issues.

In a letter to the state’s TV stations, the heads of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Common Cause in Wisconsin and the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin called on broadcasters to demonstrate their commitment to election, public affairs and governmental coverage by airing at least two hours of candidate-centered or issue-centered programming weekly during the six weeks leading up to the September primary election and the November general election.

The letter notes the Wisconsin groups along with partner organizations throughout the Great Lakes region are teaming up with UWNewsLab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to track and analyze political news coverage in nine Midwest TV markets, including Milwaukee and Madison. The collaborative effort will produce a Midwest News Index providing a quarterly analysis comparing the amount and quality of news coverage in states including Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan and Ohio.

“We believe that more substantive coverage of campaigns and public policy will provide a great service to a viewing public that is currently overwhelmed and repelled by 30-second campaign ads,” the letter says.

The letter also points out that a 2004 study by the University of Wisconsin and the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center found that local TV stations devoted eight times more coverage to stories about accidental injuries than they did to coverage of all local election races combined.

The groups offered to work with the stations to help identify ways to improve coverage, and said in the letter they will call public attention to stations’ success in upgrading coverage or failure to meaningfully cover elections and public affairs.

Letter

The letter to WI broadcasters went to a total of 31 stations, including: WTMJ, WISN, WDJT, WITI, WVTV, WCGV, WVCY and WPXE of Milwaukee and WJJA of Oak Creek; WISC, WMTV, WKOW, WMSN and WBUW of Madison; WBAY, WGBA, WFRV, WLUK, WIWB and WACY of Green Bay-Appleton; WEAU, WQOW and WEUX of Eau Claire; WXOW, WKBT and WLAX of La Crosse; WSAW, WAOW and WFXS of Wausau; WYOW of Eagle River and WJFW of Rhinelander.

One is reproduced below.

June 27, 2006

Frank Biancuzzo
President and General Manager
WISN-TV
P.O. Box 402
Milwaukee , WI 53201-0402

Dear Mr. Biancuzzo:

We are writing to let you know that the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, the League of Women Voters in Wisconsin and Common Cause in Wisconsin, in partnership with organizations throughout the Midwest, are teaming up with the NewsLab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to track and analyze political news coverage in nine Midwest markets, including Milwaukee and Madison.

The resulting Midwest News Index will provide a quarterly analysis comparing the volume and quality of news coverage across the Midwest in states including Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, and Ohio. T he NewsLab will be capturing newscasts from June 2006 through May 2007, which will allow analysis of both election coverage and also ongoing coverage of state and local government. The Midwest News Index will allow us to compare political coverage across states and to track and report on substantive coverage by specific stations. It will help policy makers and viewers to hold their local stations accountable for the content and quality of political coverage on the airwaves. We plan to use this information to stimulate community discussion on the public interest obligations of broadcast television stations.

We encourage WISN to demonstrate your commitment to election, public affairs and governmental coverage by devoting a minimum of two hours per week to candidate-centered or issue-centered programming in the six weeks leading up to the primary and general elections this year. And we challenge you to use your regular newscasts to provide thorough, in-depth coverage of the key public policy issues being debated throughout the year. We believe that more substantive coverage of campaigns and public policy will provide a great service to a viewing public that is currently overwhelmed and repelled by 30-second campaign ads.

In 2004, the University of Wisconsin and University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center found that local stations devoted eight times more coverage to stories about accidental injuries than they did to coverage of all local election races combined. Surely, the public would value additional information about their electoral choices.

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign will be coordinating the Wisconsin component of this regional project. Over the coming weeks and months we would welcome the opportunity to meet with you and other area broadcasters to discuss how to improve election and issue coverage. We are happy to work with you to identify best practices in political reporting and we look forward to calling public attention to your successes. We also won’t hesitate to make public your station’s failure to provide viewers with substantive public affairs and election coverage if that proves to be the case.

There is no greater public service than providing citizens with the information that they need to make informed decisions about their futures and participate fully in our democracy. We look forward to discussing this with you further.

Sincerely,

Mike McCabe
Executive Director
Wisconsin Democracy Campaign

  Andrea Kaminski
Executive Director
League of Women Voters of Wisconsin
  Jay Heck
Executive Director
Common Cause in Wisconsin