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NAB Touts Station Election Efforts

On the eve of the release of a study from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, critical of TV station election coverage, the National Association of Broadcasters released its documenting of an anecdotal sample of broadcasters' campaign efforts.

The compilation includes making the point that some candidates turn down offers of free time by local stations. For example, NAB says that WICS-TV Springfield, Ill., has been trying for "for months" to get the two major gubernatorial candidates, Rod Blagojevich and Judy Topinka, to agree to a prime time debate, without success.

Likely not coincidentally, one of the markets NAB points to is Madison, Wis., where the NBC affilate there, WMTV, aired a gubernatorial debate Oct. 7 and has offered 40 candidates the chance to tape a 5-minute interview in the station's 5 p.m. newscast, which would also be made available on its Web site.

That was just one of a couple dozen examples NAB collected.

Following are the examples NAB cited, in their own words:

WDIV-TV Detroit (Post-Newsweek-owned, NBC affiliate) aired a gubernatorial debate featuring Dick DeVos and Jennifer Granholm in prime time from 8 - 9 pm on October 10. The debate will re-air at noon on October 15. WDIV-TV also produces a weekly public affairs program, "Flashpoint," which airs Sundays at 10 am. Recently, "Flashpoint" featured DeVos and Granholm and U.S. Congressional candidates Nancy Skinner (D) and Representative Joe Knollenberg, each in half-hour interviews. The program will feature an interview later this month with Senator Debbie Stabenow (D). WDIV has also offered state and federal candidates the opportunity to answer the question, "Why should voters cast their vote for you?" Candidates will begin taping their segments on October 12 and they are scheduled to air the weekend prior to the election: on Saturday, November 4 from 1 - 2:30 pm and on Sunday, November 5 from 12 - 1 pm.

WBNS-TV Columbus, Ohio (Dispatch-owned, CBS affiliate) will air an hour-long debate featuring gubernatorial candidates Ted Strickland and Kenneth Blackwell in prime time from 8 - 9 pm on October 16. The debate will air without commercial interruption and will be made available to every television station in the state. WBNS-TV is also sending a reporter on location to different towns and cities across the state for a nightly segment that will demonstrate the pulse of the voters on candidates and various initiatives. This special feature will begin airing on October 23 and continue through November 3. The station continues to provide viewers with extensive coverage of statewide ballot initiatives that, if passed, would ban smoking in public places, allow slot machines at horse racing tracks, and raise the minimum wage.

WISN-TV Milwaukee (Hearst-Argyle-owned, ABC affiliate) aired an hour-long debate featuring gubernatorial candidates Jim Doyle and Mark Green on October 6 in prime time. The debate featured a panel of moderators, which included a WISN reporter. WISN-TV continues to honor its pledge as part of Commitment 2006, a commitment by all Hearst-Argyle stations to provide 10 minutes of airtime for daily political news and candidate discourse, including five minutes of original content each weekday.

WILX-TV Lansing, Mich. (Gray-owned, NBC affiliate) produced and aired a gubernatorial debate from 8 - 9 pm on October 3. On October 10 from 8 - 9 pm, WILX aired a second gubernatorial debate produced by WOOD-TV Grand Rapids, Mich. (LIN-owned, NBC affiliate). Both debates were carried commercial free and without interruption. WILX also produces a segment entitled "Ask the Candidate" during its evening news, which provides candidates an opportunity to speak on a topic of interest without edit. Michigan senatorial candidates Debbie Stabenow and Mike Bouchad have participated in the "Ask the Candidate" forum on a number of occasions. Both gubernatorial candidates turned down WILX's "Ask the Candidate" offers.

WEWS-TV Cleveland(Scripps-owned, ABC affiliate) aired an hour-long debate featuring gubernatorial candidates Ted Strickland and Kenneth Blackwell at 7 pm in September. As the election draws closer, WEWS is also featuring 5 minute interviews with nearly 30 different state and federal candidates during its nightly newscasts. Additionally, the station will produce and air a two-hour pre-election special, scheduled to air from 6 - 8 pm on Sunday, November 5 and a second one-hour pre-election special to air on the eve of the election.

WXYZ-TV Detroit (Scripps-owned, ABC affiliate) will air a live, one-hour debate between gubernatorial candidates Governor Jennifer Granholm and challenger Dick DeVos on WXYZ-TV on Monday, October 16, 2006 at 8:00 p.m. The debate is being made available to TV stations statewide and will be simulcast on WZZM-TV Grand Rapids, WJRT-TV Flint, WLNS-TV Lansing, WWTV/WWUP Traverse City/Cadillac and WSBT South Bend.

WSYM-TV Lansing, Mich. (Journal-owned, Fox Affiliate) aired a live debate from 8 - 9 pm on October 7 featuring gubernatorial candidates Dick Devos and Jennifer Granholm. The hour-long debate ran commercial free without interruption. This program is in addition to Journal Broadcast Group's "2006 Red, White and Blue Election Initiative," committing each of the company's television news operations and radio news/talk stations to significant election coverage in the thirty days leading up to the November 7, 2006 general election. The initiative includes a minimum five minutes of news coverage daily focused on candidates running for office, to be broadcast in the afternoon and late evening newscasts on television and in high listener time periods on radio. Coverage will include interviews, profiles and viewers' questions and debates where appropriate.

WMTV Madison, Wis. (Gray-owned, NBC affiliate) aired a debate from 7 - 8 pm on October 7 featuring gubernatorial candidates Jim Doyle and Mark Green. The station has also offered 40 state and federal candidates the opportunity to tape a 5 minute interview, which will be aired during the station's 5 o'clock newscast and made available on their Web site.

KINC-TV Las Vegas (Entravision-owned, Univision affiliate) aired a debate sponsored by KLVX-TV Las Vegas on August 5, 2006 from 10 - 11 am featuring Republican primary gubernatorial candidates Bob Gibbons, Bob Beers and Lorraine Hunt. KINC-TV also aired a debate sponsored by KLVX-TV Las Vegas on August 12 from 10 - 11 am featuring Democratic primary gubernatorial candidates Dina Titus and Jim Gibson. Both debates were aired with Spanish audio.

KOTA-TV Rapid City, SD (Duhamel Broadcasting-owned, ABC affiliate) aired a station-sponsored debate on August 23 from 6 - 7 pm featuring gubernatorial candidates Gov. Mike Rounds (R), Jack Billion (D), Tom Gerber (Lib.) and Steven Willis (Const.).

KSMO-TV Fairway, Kans. (Meredith-owned, MyNetworkTV affiliate) airs a weekly half-hour locally produced public affairs program, "Your Kansas City." The program provides viewers with information on various topics including the Kansas school finance bill, Jackson County stadium vote and primary elections. The program is jointly produced with Meredith sister-station KCTV-TV Kansas City (CBS affiliate).

WHNS-TV Greenville, SC (Meredith-owned, Fox affiliate) on numerous occasions has provided 4.5 minutes of free, unedited air time to address the electorate during special political coverage following The Morning News called "Know Your Candidates." Appearances have included gubernatorial candidates Oscar Lovelace (R) on June 5, Dennis Aughtry (D) on June 6, Tommy Moore (D) on June 7, Frank Willis (D) on June 8 and Mark Sanford (R) on June 9; Republican primary candidates for lieutenant governor Henry Jordan (R) on May 24, Mike Campbell (R) on June 1 and Andre Bauer (R) on June 2. On June 12, "Know Your Candidates" featured Joe Erwin, South Carolina state Democratic chairman and Katon Dawson, South Carolina state Republican chairman. The political coverage was also available on WHNS's Web site and included in-depth candidate bios and voter information.

WISC-TV Madison, Wisc. (Morgan Murphy-owned, CBS affiliate), WTMJ-TV Milwaukee (Journal-owned, NBC affiliate) and WGBA-TV Green Bay (Journal-owned, NBC affiliate) broadcast a one-hour forum at 7 pm on September 15 with Governor Jim Doyle and U.S. Representative Mark Green focused on taxes and the economy. A second debate will take place on Friday, October 20 in La Crosse and will look at quality of life issues, such as health care and education.

WAVE-TV Louisville (Raycom Media-owned, NBC affiliate) hosted a live Third District congressional debate from 7 - 8 pm on October 10. Republican incumbent Rep. Anne Northup debated Democratic challenger John Yarmuth. WAVE's Scott Reynolds moderated. WAVE offered Libertarian candidate Donna Walker Mancini and Constitution Party candidate W. Ed Parker live interviews during the 7 pm news on Wednesday, October 11 and Monday Oct 16 respectively.

WMBB-TV Panama City, Fla. (Media General-owned, ABC affiliate) held town hall forum on August 21 from 6:30 - 7:30 p.m. featuring seven candidates for Bay County Commission, four candidates for Florida House District 6 and four candidates for Bay County school board.

WNEP-TV Scranton, Pa. (New York Times-owned, ABC affiliate) offered free airtime to all qualified candidates for the May primary election. Station provided five minutes of free time each day, giving all responding candidates a free, unedited, unfiltered opportunity to speak to viewers during the 21 day period leading up to the primary. The station aired one debate featuring the candidates for lieutenant governor and another featuring candidates for the Pennsylvania state House of Representatives. WNEP carried political speeches on August 19, extending an invitation to 16 candidates, eight of whom accepted. WNEP will offer time to the 16 qualified candidates during the 30 days leading up to the November election.

WLNE-TV New Bedford, Mass. (Freedom-owned, ABC affiliate) will air two general election debates, one in the Senate campaign and the other in the gubernatorial election. WLNE is also providing five-minute candidate vignettes of all candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and senator on the station's Web site.

WREG-TV Memphis (New York Times-owned, CBS affiliate) station hosted and aired two live debates. The first, from 7 - 8 pm on October 7, featured senatorial candidates Harold Ford Jr. and Bob Corker. The second, from 7 -8 pm on October 8, featured candidates in Tennessee's 9th U.S. Congressional District. The debates will be re-aired on October 14.

WJAC-TV Johnstown-Altoona, Pa. (Cox-owned, NBC affiliate) will air a one-hour roundtable discussion from 7 to 8 pm on October 21. The roundtable will feature candidates for the state senate seat in the 30th District.

Belo Corp. television stations in Texas topped ratings on October 6 with their broadcast of the one-hour Texas gubernatorial debate, making it the most-watched program on broadcast TV in its time period in three out of the state's four largest markets. Belo-owned CBS affiliates KENS-TV San Antonio and KHOU-TV Houston and ABC affiliates KVUE-TV Austin and WFAA-TV Dallas aired the debate from 7 - 8pm. This is the only gubernatorial debate to include the four leading candidates: Democratic nominee Chris Bell, independent candidate Kinky Friedman, incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Perry and independent candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn. Belo stations aired the broadcast in both English and Spanish in markets across the state and reaching about 90 percent of the state's households.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.