Hinchey Says Sunday Shows Still Unbalanced

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Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) is complaining that network Sunday morning public affairs programs are still dominated by Republican and conservative voices even after a mid-term election that saw the Democrats take over the House and Senate.

Hinchey said he was calling on the networks "to do the right thing and provide equal opportunities for Democrats, who control both chambers of Congress."

Hinchey suggested the networks have an affirmative obligation to be fair. "The American people are the owners of the public airwaves," he said in a statement announcing his March 13 press conference, "and the networks have an obligation and responsibility to use those airwaves to offer a balanced presentation of ideas and perspectives from Democrats and Republicans alike."

Actually, the public interest obligations are not incumbent upon networks except in their capacity as station owners, and the FCC in 1987 got rid of a rule, called the Fairness Doctrine, that required stations to balance the voices on their airwaves.

Hinchey, a vocal critic of media consolidation, introduced a bill in the summer of 2005 that would have restored the doctrine among a host of other sweeping re-regulatory moves.

Many Democrats cite the removal of that rule, and with some reason, as the spur to the conservative radio talk boom.

Hinchey's spur was a report released by liberal activist group mediamatters.org, that actually found some improvement--ABC's This Week it labeled "roughly balanced," since the election, but said that, on balance, the shows were still not balanced.

"Regardless of the study says, bookings are driven by what's news and who is in the news," said Jeffrey Schneider, senior VP, ABC News. "That said, we are always trying to present all sides of the great political debates going on in the country."
One news executive pointed out that one reason for the tilt, if there is one, is that Bush administration officials were being asked tough questions week after week.