November 14, 2005

Why not deny Chicago licenses?

I am a Chicago resident, and I represent the listed Chicago-area party in interest for the FCC petition filed against nine Chicago-area TV stations and one of the petitions at issue in the "Deny the Petition" editorial published in Broadcasting & Cable on Nov. 7, 2005 (for the stations' paltry coverage of local election news).

B&C calls the Chicago-related petition "nonsense" since "television news directors use the same criteria as other journalists do to determine what is newsworthy" and that "if there had been a mayoral election in Chicago, you can bet it would have been covered. Chicago is all about local politics."

Chicago may well be "all about local politics," but the petition emphasizes the point that the full panoply of Chicago and Chicago-related political races and campaigns, of which there is no shortage--especially during an election year--were well-nigh invisible to TV-watching Chicagoans.

Needless to say, there is much more to Chicago politics than mayoral elections.

The study of Chicago TV coverage cited by the petition only covered a month of newscasts and public-affairs shows before the election, but people are most likely to pay attention to electoral issues as an election approaches.

Moreover, if people are going to want to learn about local news and public affairs, then obviously they're going to watch the local TV news and public- affairs shows. It makes sense to focus on the last month and especially on programs devoted to news and public affairs, which should be replete with coverage of local politics--or at least have more coverage of local politics than they had.

The "horse-race" aspects of what local coverage there was don't automatically equate liking or disliking a story. I can like or dislike a story emphasizing "horse-race" aspects, and I can like or dislike a story that discusses hard issues. The fact remains that there was far more of the former kind of story and hardly any of the latter kind.

Narrow criteria were used in the study cited by the petition, but the criteria themselves were hardly difficult to fulfill.

If volunteer efforts like Chicago-area community newspapers and Web sites can find the time to cover local electoral politics, then certainly nine TV stations and all their affiliated (and paid) staff can devote a portion of their coverage to local electoral issues.

But they didn't. So why should they get away with failing a key test of the obligation of their broadcast license?

I encourage the FCC to consider the petition seriously.

Mitchell Szczepanczyk

Chicago Media Action