TRANSCRIPT (from the morning of Wednesday, July 21, 2004):
A Chicago-area media watchdog group is accusing Channel 11 of ignoring people of color and labor organizations.
Chicago Media Action says it's studied the public television station's "Chicago Tonight" program and found 79% of the show's guests were white and only 5% of guests represented labor viewpoints.
Channel 11's executive vice president of television, Randy King, says he met last year with the organization and asked for its help to diversify guests.
But he says Chicago Media Action failed to follow through.
King says the group REALLY wanted control over which guests appear on Chicago Tonight.
[Tape: Daily News > For Air]
[Name: News-JD-King 1]
[Incue: It is not...]
[Outcue: that we could.]
King says Chicago Media Action fails to distinguish between PUBLIC broadcasting and community or PUBLIC ACCESS broadcasting.
Still, he says he does take seriously the group's critique of diversity among Chicago Tonight's guests.
Chicago Media Action responds:
WBEZ's radio piece about the CMA study makes two accusations against Chicago Media Action -- (1) that Chicago Media Action didn't accept Randy King's offer for improving the guest list for Chicago Tonight, and (2) that CMA is confusing public broadcasting with public access cable television. We address each of these accusations in turn.
As to the presumed offer, WBEZ didn't fully represent the chronology of events involved in the "turndown". As documented on the CMA's public television webpage (on CMA's website, www.chicagomediaaction.org), CMA began the negotiations in late 2002 with a request for a documentary-and-forum series as a public venue for discussing the then-impending War in Iraq. This wasn't a necessarily outrageous request; WTTW has held such public venues in the past.
To their credit, WTTW held two face-to-face meetings with CMA and community leaders in March and April 2003. In these meetings, WTTW in general and King in particular were instead encouraging us to channel our resources instead towards Chicago Tonight. But we didn't made a point in our request to ask for coverage on Chicago Tonight, particularly since that could have played into WTTW's hands. After all, WTTW could have given Chicago's peace movement some fleeting coverage on Chicago Tonight to offset criticism that the show didn't cover the movement. But at the same time, WTTW can't give the movement ongoing coverage lest the station offend its commercial supporters, which include corporations like Chicago's own Boeing whose profits stood to increase directly from the war. (Boeing's vice-president of financial planning and analysis, Kenneth Hannah, serves on the WTTW Board of Directors.)
Nevertheless, WTTW stalled on the request. WTTW then turned down the request once the War in Iraq began and the urgency behind the request was no longer "raging" (a direct quote from WTTW's response). By doing so, the station more blatantly "dropped the ball" on CMA's request than CMA ever did on a request of the station's. CMA can be forgiven moreso than WTTW can: Chicago Media Action is not a media consultancy firm, but WTTW has a legal obligation to address unserved and underserved communities, like those of the poor and communities of color whose youth are serving and dying in Iraq in disproportionate numbers -- in no small part to the pre-war negligence of media outlets like WTTW.
As to the second charge of conflating public broadcasting and public access, Chicago Media Action is certainly aware that public broadcasting and public access cable television are two different entities; CMA has acted in support of CAN TV and against WTTW, each for valid reasons. But this accusation is a red herring, meant to distract Chicagoans from the increasing commercialization of WTTW and restricting poor and working-class concerns to public access, which has a much smaller potential audience than WTTW. (CMA emphasizes that public access television is nevertheless a valued resource, and CMA has spent much of 2004 in supporting Chicago Access Network Television in its fight for financial stability.)
Note: CMA had thought that WBEZ is itself due for a correction. It turns out that CMA made an error on our press release. The transcript of the radio piece mentioned "only 5% of guests represented labor viewpoints". The number is actually 0.5% (zero point five percent), but had been listed on our press release as 5%. The error on the press release is now corrected.
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