Senate Commerce Committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell Wednesday called on each of the country's top broadcast executives to boost their coverage of this year's elections.
Broadcasters "should raise the level of public discourse during the election season ahead," they wrote in letters to News Corp. President Peter Chernin, NAB President Eddie Fritts, Disney President Robert Iger, Viacom co-president Leslie Moonves, and NBC Chairman Bob Wright.
"Broadcast television continues to be the primary source of campaign and election information for the American public and the medium that voters find most helpful in selecting a candidate," the policymakers wrote.
However, in the seven weeks leading up to election day 2002, more than half of all top-rated local news broadcasts did not have any campaign coverage whatsoever, they said, citing a report by the University of Southern California and the University of Wisconsin.
"The same study also found that when local broadcasters did air campaign stories on local news broadcasts, only 24 percent of the stories were about issues," the rest focused on campaign strategy and polling data. "While this information is newsworthy and interesting, it does not provide voters with the knowledge necessary to make an informed decision on whether to vote for a candidate."
Consequently, McCain and Powell challenged all local broadcasters to provide their communities with "significant information" on the issues facing the community and candidates' platforms and coverage candidate debates during this election year.
McCain and Powell held a Capitol Hill press conference to unveil the letter. Election finance reform group The Campaign Legal Center used the occasion to release its guide for helping broadcasters navigate political advertising rules.
Earlier in the week, former presidential candidate Howard Dean also told broadcasters that it was their responsibility to provide campaign coverage whether or not it attracted a big audience.