FCC, other groups ask for more election coverage

WASHINGTON — A broad coalition of media watchdogs and grassroots groups is getting sick of all the brain-candy reality shows on primetime TV — especially while people are dying in Iraq and with so much at stake in the presidential election.

Democratic FCC commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein and reps from a half-dozen groups gathered at the National Press Club on Monday to call on TV broadcasters to put public interest ahead of profits when it comes to programming, especially as it relates to election coverage.

The groups launched a nationwide campaign, challenging broadcasters to air at least two hours per week of primetime candidate and election coverage for the six weeks leading up to the Nov. 2 election.

“Reality TV must be the ultimate survivor,” said Charles Benton, who chairs the Benton Foundation, a nonprofit communications policy org. “Public interest obligations ensure that these real concerns are not kicked off the island. It’s time to bring reality back to television policy.”

Groups, which included the Alliance for Better Campaigns and political watchdog Common Cause, cited a 2002 study by USC’s Annenberg School for Communication. It found that more than half of all top-rated local news broadcasts did not air campaign coverage in the seven weeks leading up to Election Day.

“This year’s election is being labeled one of the most partisan, divisive and raucous in recent history, and many Americans believe that the future and the values of our country are at stake,” said Gloria Tristani, a former FCC commissioner who heads the office of communication for the United Church of Christ. “Yet study after study shows that issue and electoral coverage by television stations is at an all-time low.”

Benton also cited a survey conducted by his eponymous foundation that found that 85% of those questioned supported extending broadcasters’ responsibility to provide at least three hours of educational and instructional programming on new digital channels they create.

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