Change the Frequency of Bad TV (October 2005 Conscious Choice

Posted by Mitchell - September 30, 2005 (entry 363)

FRUSTRATED WITH programming on Chicago-area TV stations?

Complaints about local broadcasting carry little weight if you don’t participate in the license renewal process for all over-the-air TV stations in Illinois.

All TV stations must carry a broadcast license awarded by the Federal Communications Commission. The licenses are not permanent and must be renewed every eight years. Illinois’ TV licenses expire on Dec. 1, 2005.

The opportunity to officially vent won’t come around again until 2013. TV licenses can be revoked if stations don’t meet the FCC’s mandate to provide for the public’s interest, convenience and necessity.

Some questions to consider: Have Chicago-area TV stations been meeting the public interest, convenience and necessity? Do local stations deserve another eight years of untaxed use of the public airwaves?

Since we (the reporters of this article) are part of a media watchdog group called Chicago Media Action, we decided to find out. We visited the TV studios of WGN-TV, near Addison and Western, and Chicago’s Fox affiliate, WFLD, on Michigan Avenue. We viewed the public files of those stations, and found plenty of reasons to question whether they deserve another free eight-year TV license.

For example, free TV stations are required to air a minimum of three hours per week of educational children’s programming. WGN’s own files say it fills this requirement with multiple airings of just two shows — “Liberty’s Kids,” and “Sabrina: The Animated Series” — which both air on Sunday mornings.

Stations are required to maintain a file of correspondence with the public for the previous three years. WGN’s correspondence file contains complaints from several viewers who wrote about the frequency and sordid nature of WGN’s commercials.

WGN’s file also teems with letters condemning the station for “trashy” and “immoral” daytime programming. “The Maury Povich Show” seems to be a target of choice among disgruntled viewers.

Stations also are required to keep records of news stories which reflect “community concerns.” WFLD’s records include as “community concerns” stories about drug busts, murders, robberies, fires, abductions, drownings, sexual assaults, toddlers with guns, teachers accused of molesting students, and abandoned babies. Only a handful dealt with government or political issues. And this was right after an election year.

WFLD’s only significant local public affairs show, called “Fox Chicago Perspective,” airs Sunday mornings at 8, when audiences are miniscule. This is a disturbingly typical circumstance for local public affairs shows on commercial TV stations.

What can you do? Right now, and until Dec. 1, viewers can let the FCC know what they think about any of Illinois’ TV stations. To do so online, visit fcc.gov/cgb/ecfs/.

Also: During regular business hours, viewers can visit any licensed TV station and ask to see the station’s public file. They can also write to the station to contribute to the public file.

For more information, visit chicagomediaaction.org or call 866-260-7198.

— Mitchell Szczepanczyk and Steve Macek

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed on this website are those of the individual members of Chicago Media Action who authored them, and not necessarily those of the entire membership of Chicago Media Action, nor of Chicago Media Action as an organization.

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