Study: Stations Gorged on Campaign Ads, but Not Election Coverage

Nov 21, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Midwest TV stations devoted far more time to political advertising than to political news coverage during their newscasts in the month before the November election, according to an analysis released Tuesday by the University of Wisconsin’s NewsLab and the Joyce Foundation.

Updating an earlier report that tracked local political coverage on 28 ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC affiliates in seven markets in five states, NewsLab reported that during a typical 30-minute broadcast newscast, nearly 4.5 minutes of political ads aired, but only 1 minute, 43 seconds of election-related news coverage.

Still, the amount of election news coverage was a big increase over the 36-second average from Sept. 7 to Oct. 6.

Joyce Foundation VP Larry Hansen said the number of political ads shows the need for broadcasters to cover issues, and in a statement said broadcasters “failed in their responsibility to provide an adequate amount of substantive election coverage” that might have balanced out the ads.

Dennis Wharton, a National Association of Broadcasters spokesman, called the study “shoddy,” saying it ignored broadcasters’ airing of debates and other programming that presented some of the issues and that the NewsLab researchers demonstrated “a fundamental misunderstanding of how broadcasting works and how viewers get their news.”

“Local stations air political coverage during many dayparts, and not just in the narrow time frame of weekday evening newscasts. By failing to acknowledge the totality of free airtime freely given by broadcasters—including morning news, noon news, weekend public affairs programming and televised debates—these researchers do a huge disservice to the academic community,” he said.