Public TV  

Chicago Media Action since its founding has been working on activism pertaining to the main PBS affiliate in Chicago -- WTTW, Channel 11. The problems with WTTW, which justify such efforts, are many.

* WTTW is mired in financial problems. These include layoffs, an overpaid executive staff, embezzlement, and financial mismanagement. (Curiously, the corporate media has produced some investigative coverage of these financial problems.)
* WTTW appeals to filthy rich corporations (more filthy than rich) for funds, staff, and board members.
* WTTW is plagued by "underwriting" -- the public broadcaster's euphemism for advertising. In fact, WTTW holds a place of infamy as being the only station fined by the FCC for excessive commercialism.
* WTTW's programming and content is impacted as a result. The weekly TV series NOW is scheduled erratically, with some episodes not appearing at all. No African-Americans host any of WTTW's shows, nor are there any shows which regularly present perspectives by labor unions, the poor and working class, ethnic minorities, or any of the demographics which comprise Chicago.

The history (so far) of CMA activism around WTTW can be grouped into three rounds.

Round One was launched with CMA's effective founding in November 2002. CMA called for the revival of a documentary-and-public-forum series, which WTTW had held in the past. The main issue was to bring to greater public attention "alternative" perspectives on the then-impending War in Iraq. A series of back-and-forth negotiations between culminated in March 2003 with a pair of person-to-person meetings between CMA and WTTW, including one meeting in which more than 35 activists met in March (forming a coalition called the "We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Programming Coalition", or the "We Interrupt" group for short). Despite this, WTTW dropped the ball on the proposal, delaying the proposal until after the war's launch, and then finally declining the proposal, as they deemed the issue no longer a "raging" one.

Round Two: CMA called for a much more potent prescription to remedy WTTW's corporate-caused illness, and to deal with the larger endemic flaws of public broadcasting:

(1) Fire WTTW CEO Dan Schmidt.
(2) Conduct a government audit of WTTW funds
(3) Implement the series of monthly town halls and documentaries called for earlier
(4) Implement an independent commission to help resolve WTTW's funding dilemma.

The first launch took place on October 11, 2003, when CMA sent a letter to the chair of the WTTW Board of Directors, accompanied by a rapid-response-form campaign. The chair unsurprisingly sent a response dismissing the request. CMA is now involved in various efforts to bring attention to the proposal and to the problems involved with the station. These have included a number of radio broadcast and print discussions on the issue, with a campaign that is poised to escalate.

Round Three: The campaign makes a formal escalation on July 19, 2004, when CMA publicly releases a study nearly a year in the making [ download executive summary | download study | download appendix | Article in FAIR's magazine "Extra" ]. The study is a content analysis of WTTW's flagship show, Chicago Tonight. To our knowledge, the study is the most in-depth analysis of WTTW or of Chicago Tonight which has ever been conducted -- 30 episodes across three months comprising more than 400 guests. The findings of the study confirm that public broadcasting in Chicago overwhelming favors elites over the public -- the topics tend to be non-news (sports and entertainment) and the guests tend to be white, male, and rich representatives from government or corporate sources.

How you can participate: You can contact the Chair of the WTTW Board of Directors to tell her you Support The Four Demands above. You can use the CMA Rapid Response form for emailing the chair, Sandra Guthman, and call Sandra Guthman's office, at 312-527-4684, to leave a message that you "support the four Chicago Media Action demands". Also, be sure to visit Chicago Media Action's website often, and/or join our mailing list for further information and updates about CMA's efforts against WTTW.

Additional Resources:
* A Timeline of the history of Chicago Public Broadcasting
* List of Chicago public television issues (courtesy Labor Beat)
* Struggling for the Soul of WTTW: Public Broadcasting Going Private

Past CMA articles on this topic are listed below in reverse chronological order.

Past CMA announcements on this topic are listed below in reverse chronological order.