Better media coverage needed locally

While I do believe that some of the media attempt to educate the voters about the upcoming elections, our three TV local news stations are shirking their public duty in this matter. A one-hour, one-day, ill-publicized “debate” doesn’t really cut it.

According to The Atlantic Monthly (December 2003), “… among the nation’s top fifty media markets, during the seven weeks preceding the November 2002 midterm election, more than half of the local TV broadcasts gave no coverage whatsoever to political campaigns.” The really sad part “… is that most of the political information gleaned by local news viewers came from paid advertisements.” The Alliance for Better Campaigns suggests “… that although broadcasters ignore political campaigns in their news coverage, they are happy to exploit them for their revenue-gathering potential.”

Why can’t our three TV stations conduct three- to five-minute interviews prior to an election? Why can’t we see if our candidates can speak and think coherently? Why can’t the questions have to do with concerns here in Rockford or the state? The candidates could even be given the questions ahead of time so they could come prepared with facts, making their answers both brief and succinct.

For instance:

Ask a local alderman running for office—What is your opinion of a new jail being built downtown? Do you think that the leadership of the park district needs to be replaced?

Ask a senator or representative running for state office—Compared to Peoria and Aurora, does Rockford get its fair share of state monies for repair of roads, bridges, etc.? School teachers, firemen and policemen are considered Illinois public servants. Then why are teachers not given the same health care and Social Security benefits as the other two?

If the interviewers would hit some hot topics, people would watch.

One subject that ought to be avoided: sex. Please, no questions about abortion or same-sex marriage. Not only have the viewers heard too much about these topics, there’s nothing our local leaders can do about it anyway.

If you broadcast the interviews during the evening news hours, perhaps you will catch some of the younger potential voters, and who knows, they might become interested in the election. The Register Star produces good campaign coverage, but my 20-something son reads the sports and the movie times. That’s all.

Is it not the civic responsibility of broadcast networks to keep the public informed and to do it fairly and honestly? Do they exist only to make a buck? I realize that such a proposal will take time and knowledgeable reporting; however, it seems we are becoming narrower and narrower in our interests, and the TV newscasts, in underestimating their viewers, are contributing to the “dumbing down” of our citizenry. Maybe voters do need to be coerced into getting more interested in the elections. So be it.

Come on, WIFR, WTVO and WREX, tweak that dial and give the voters some real information.

Alice Kaczmarek is a local resident.

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