WISN Agrees to Alliance’s Political Air Time Proposal

Milwaukee ABC Affiliate Becomes First Wisconsin Station to Commit to Air
5 Minutes of Candidate Discourse Nightly

September 7, 2000

Madison - WISN TV 12, the ABC affiliate in Milwaukee, has committed to air five minutes of political candidate discourse - in the form of mini-debates, one-on-one live or taped interviews and other reporting formats - every night in the month before Wisconsin’s November 7 general election, the Alliance for Better Campaigns-Wisconsin reported today.

WISN is the first Wisconsin broadcaster to commit to the national standard the Alliance is promoting. The standard - dubbed "5/30" for five minutes of "candidate-centered discourse" nightly in the 30 days before an election - originated in the recommendations of a White House advisory panel that included broadcasters and was co-chaired by the president of CBS.

"This is a bold step by WISN to offer viewers a political campaign based on issues and ideas, not just money and ads," said Wisconsin Democracy Campaign executive director Mike McCabe, who serves as state project director for the Alliance for Better Campaigns-Wisconsin.

"Channel 12 is breaking ground and my hat’s off to them for showing the courage and leadership to commit to give their viewers more than a steady diet of 30-second ads and scant horse-race coverage. I hope their pioneer spirit is infectious," McCabe said.

The Alliance for Better Campaigns-Wisconsin contacted 20 television stations in Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, La Crosse, Eau Claire, Wausau and Rhinelander in January, again in February and once more last week to urge them to commit to the 5/30 standard, he said.

About 50 stations across the country have now committed to the 5/30 standard, McCabe said, noting a number of them started providing the nightly candidate segments in the month leading up to the primary elections in their states. The experiences of the stations that have already implemented the 5/30 standard have been positive, he said.

"The stations are reporting their ratings remained stable, candidates participated in the brief issue forums and mini-debates they held, and the stature of their stations was enhanced," McCabe said, citing comments made at an American Enterprise Institute symposium by representatives of WCVB-TV in Boston, WRAL-TV in Raleigh, and KNXV-TV in Phoenix.

"The experience of the stations that are actually meeting the 5/30 standard shows that the fears of the broadcast industry are unfounded," McCabe added. "The public considers democracy newsworthy. There is an appetite for real reality TV."

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign monitored the election coverage of several local stations in the Madison market before the state’s April 4 primary and found the stations aired an average only nine seconds of candidate discourse. The research also found that the vast majority of the election stories focused on things like poll results and campaign strategy - horse race coverage - rather than issues. More extensive monitoring will be done in the 30 days before the November 7 election, McCabe said.