Thursday, December 28, 2006

Politics worthy of TV profiteering, but not TV reporting

In yesterday's Oregonian, readers got a glimpse of the local TV industry's cynicism and disdain for the public and politics.

The paper reported on the meager amount of time local stations devoted to Oregon political races in the month before the 2004 election.

Defending the one percent of TV news time given to state and local political coverage, Bill Johnstone, president of the Oregon Association of Broadcasters, was reported as saying the journalistic pittance gave TV viewers "more than their fill....Very few politicians can tell the truth."

A Portland coalition called the "Money in Politics Research Action Project" (MIPRAP) is asking the Federal Communications Commission not to renew the licenses of the stations because of their failure to "serve the public interest" as required by law.

But Johnstone told The Oregonian that asking TV stations to air more campaign stories would simply provide politicians more time for mudslinging.

Wait just a minute, Bill. Don't the broadcasters collect millions in revenues from these very slime-ball ads? If they are so disgusting, why do the stations run them? Moreover, if broadcast managers are so concerned about the mudslinging, why don't they devote journalistic air time to expose the sliming for what it is?

Or are the media managers simply giving the advertising greater "value" by ignoring the issue? Commercial TV broadcasters have hardly been out front in criticizing other kinds of polluters and hucksters who advertise.

It's this sort of hypocritical, lucrative collusion that has led critics to compare FCC-granted broadcast licenses to "licenses to print money"...the public be damned.

Sadly, the Oregonian story omits the irony of Johnstone's attacking the political class whose money his industry is all too happy to take.

And important sidebar is that The Oregonian itself is part of the vast Newhouse media empire that includes 12 television stations. In fairness, none of them are located here or are part of the complaint. But how well do they serve the public in their markets?

I hope MIPRAP is monitoring how, and if, the local TV stations cover the story of its FCC challenge. Or do local TV managers believe the challenge is just more lying and mudslinging and hence unworthy of coverage?

In my view, we haven't begun to get our fill of this story.

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