CBS votes to cover politics on its O&Os

Will devote at least five minutes a day

NEW YORK — CBS Television said Thursday that 17 of its O&Os have committed to devote at least five minutes a day to political coverage leading up to the presidential election.

The five-minutes-a-night standard was recommended by a 1998 White House panel of broadcasters and public-interest advocates co-chaired by CBS president Leslie Moonves and American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Norman Ornstein.

“We wanted to take a leadership position that it’s the right thing to do,” Moonves said in an interview with Daily Variety. “It may be more popular to do a human-interest story about an animal in a zoo but, regardless of popularity polls, it’s essential to do what’s right. We take our position as public servants very seriously.”

All CBS owned-and-operated affiliates that carry news will participate in the initiative, including WCBS-TV in Gotham and KCBS-TV in Los Angeles. The informational segments, which begin airing Monday, will be produced by the local stations and will be broadcast between 5 and 11:30 p.m. within existing local news broadcasts.

Other nets onboard

A total of 60 stations nationwide have indicated they will try to meet the standard. CBS joins Hearst-Argyle Broadcasting, E.W. Scripps Co. and Capitol Broadcasting in making the five-minute commitment.

Sources said NBC will announce next week that it’s making a similar commitment.

The Alliance for Better Campaigns praised CBS on Thursday, and urged ABC, NBC and Fox to follow its lead.

“If CBS can do it, why can’t others? ABC, NBC and Fox should stop treating democracy as if it were a cash cow and start opening the airwaves to something better than attack ads and soundbites,” alliance executive director Paul Taylor said.

According to the Alliance for Better Campaigns, ABC, NBC and Fox have taken in a combined $66 million from the sale of 48,768 political ads on their local stations in the first seven months of the year.

“Our stations have always done an outstanding job of covering elections locally and nationally and will continue to do so,” ABC spokeswoman Julie Hoover said.

Fox declined to comment.

In addition to the CBS station commitment, CBS News said Thursday that it will devote significant time on “The Early Show” and the Sunday “CBS Evening News With John Roberts” to covering stories of importance to voters.

“CBS News With Dan Rather” has extended invitations to Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush to participate in a special edition of the newscast on the eve of the election. Each candidate would be given equal time to engage in one-on-one interviews with Rather.

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