Broadcasters Failed to Cover Candidates, Lear Study Says

Serious political discourse was given short shrift by the nation’s television broadcasters during the Oct. 7 to Nov. 7 election cycle, according to a recent study conducted by the USC Annenberg School for Communication’s Norman Lear Center.

A survey of campaign 2000 news coverage by 74 broadcast television stations in 58 media markets found that most stations – the 51 that had not made a public commitment to a recommended standard – aired an average of 45 seconds of candidate discourse per night, said Martin Kaplan, director of the Lear Center and associate dean of the USC Annenberg School.

“Forty-five seconds is barely enough time to clear your throat,” Kaplan said.

However, said Kaplan, the other 23 stations – those that had previously committed to airing five minutes of candidate discourse each night – “not only aired more candidate discourse, they also aired more issue stories, 60 percent longer candidate sound bites and a higher percentage of stories about state and local elections.”

A 1998 nonpartisan government report recommended that the television broadcasting industry voluntarily provide five minutes each night for candidate-centered discourse in the 30 days before an election. Seven percent of the nation’s 1,300 television stations announced that they would attempt to meet the five-minute standard. But researchers found that even the 23 stations in the study that made the commitment aired only an average of two minutes 17 seconds of candidate-centered discourse per night.

Kaplan, the study’s principal investigator, said it measured the total time that all candidates for all levels of office were shown speaking on local stations from 5 to 11:35 p.m., during the 30 days before the election.

The study was conducted under a Ford Foundation grant to the Alliance for Better Campaigns, which engaged the Lear Center to perform the research. The full text of the findings can be found at http://entertainment.usc.edu/publications/campaignnews.PDF.