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The Prism

Eye on the Media

Area TV stations neglect local news

According to a recent report released by the Common Sense Foundation, three local TV news sources often fail to adequately cover regional politics. The Foundation studied news content of WTVD, WRAL, and WNCN telecasts for May 1997. (The local Fox affiliate was excluded because they lack an evening news broadcast.)

Though hardly a shining achievement, results show that WNCN devotes the most airtime to local political coverage, with 6% of an average telecast devoted to such issues. WRAL brings up the rear, devoting less than 4% of each telecast to local politics—an abysmal statistic for a station largely regarded as one of the finest CBS affiliates.

Not surprisingly, crime stories (12% average airtime) account for the largest portion of each station's telecasts and are also the most frequent lead stories. The prioritization of crime news is somewhat suspect given that criminal activity has recently decreased in the Triangle and across North Carolina.

Local TV news content is becoming increasingly important because many citizens lack the time to regularly follow current events through print media. CSF cites a 1997 media study showing that 54% of Americans get their daily news from local broadcasts, with another 26% tuning in at least a few times a week. So despite extensive coverage in all the regional newspapers, many potential voters fail to receive vital information necessary to make informed choices about their elected representatives.

The Common Sense study illustrates this point with the House budget proposal first made available on May 30, 1997. The spending plan was the public's first opportunity to find out how state representatives wanted to spend North Carolina's tax dollars. While the proposal received significant attention in print circles, none of the aforementioned networks carried the story.

While budget news hardly offers the visual sensation of a good car wreck or double homicide, decisions on Jones Street directly affect everyone. In the age of channel surfing and short attention spans, should local TV news be a friend that gives you what you want or a parent guiding you with what you need? While there are no easy answers, CSF hopes that at least more people will begin asking the question.

-Brent Kendall

Video tip

Once in a while, it's possible to see a fine, non-Hollywood video without scouring the obscure sections of a Visart video store. 4 Days in September is widely available as a new release in most video stores.

Based on actual events of the kidnapping of the US ambassador to Brazil as recalled in a book by Brazilian legislator Fernando Gabeira, 4 Days is well-acted and fast-paced yet remains understated, especially compared to political thrillers from Hollywood. Set in the context of global events in 1969, the film deals with the personal interplay of political participants who are worlds apart. While avoiding caricaturized portrayals of any of the principal characters, it clearly builds sympathy for the Brazilian urban guerrillas who pull off the kidnapping in broad daylight. In fact, I first heard of the film on the Dr. Joy Brown Show on AM radio. The nationally-syndicated call-in psychologist permitted herself to say, "By the end of the film, you find yourself cheering for the kids."

That's true, but thorny means-and-ends questions are raised without pat answers for the film's audience.

The film had been nominated for a 1997 Academy Award and Fernando Gabeira was going to fly to Los Angeles for the ceremonies. But the State Department had a pat answer: Gabeira, who had been one of the young rebels, was not welcome and would never be welcome in the United States.

By the way, a good summary of the events can be found in A. J. Langguth's book about CIA participation in death squad regimes in Latin America, Hidden Terrors.

-David Kirsh


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