Press Release: Chicago Media Action Study Finds WTTW's "Chicago Tonight" favors rich whites and sponsors, Ignores People of Color and Workers

Posted by Mitchell - July 19, 2004 (entry 213)

James Owens (author of study) -- (773) 474-3837 (cell)
Steve Macek (study supervisor) -- (630) 718-0836
Karen Bond (CMA Member) -- (847) 328-4849
Scott Sanders (CMA Member) -- (847) 679-8032, (847) 324-3179


Chicago Media Action Study Finds WTTW's "Chicago Tonight" favors rich whites and sponsors, Ignores People of Color and Workers

According to a study released today by media watchdog Chicago Media Action, the topics, sources and views aired on Chicago PBS affiliate WTTW's flagship public affairs program, Chicago Tonight, consistently cater to the interests of advertisers and white affluent Chicagoans while ignoring news and perspectives of interest to other constituencies. The study, "Chicago Tonight: Elites, Affluence and Advertising", covers thirty episodes of Chicago Tonight, twenty of which aired in September 2003, and ten episodes that aired in January and February 2004.

"Public television is supposed to provide us with an alternative to commercial broadcasting. Yet CMA's study demonstrates that WTTW's signature news and public affairs program showcases the same white, male, professional voices that already dominate commercial TV news," explained Stephen Macek, PhD., Assistant Professor of Speech Communication at North Central College in Naperville and a collaborator on the study.

James Owens, principal author of Chicago Media Action's research effort, said "Over 40% of the Chicago area is made up of people of color - 58% in the City - but 79% of the guests on Chicago Tonight are white. During our study, Chicago Tonight presented only white guests in stories on business and economy. In addition, on stories of business and economy during our study, corporate representatives made up over 47% of the guests, while labor representatives made up less than 0.5% of the guests and no public interest representatives appeared."

Citizen activists, public interest representatives and labor representatives accounted for only 3.1% of the guests on Chicago Tonight in our study. Average citizens, with extremely rare exception, were permitted to give their opinions only in entertainment segments on Chicago Tonight. Owens further explained, "We live in a time of unprecedented public anger over the media's shortcomings in the performance of its democratic function, with no less than the New York Times apologizing for huge journalistic errors regarding Iraq. It is essential that we take this opportunity to look closely at public broadcasting too. And fix it."

Chicago Media Action co-organizer and study contributor Scott Sanders stated: "We call for the creation of a carefully selected local commission to investigate all the changes necessary to ensure that underrepresented communities are given direct, hands-on control of programming on WTTW that best meets their needs. And we call for the creation by WTTW of programming that provides for the discussion of issues of special interest to African Americans, hosted by African Americans, and programming that provides a live monthly forum for the public to discuss issues of debate and controversy, including discussion of independent documentaries. Lastly, we call for an independent audit of the station's finances due to the theft and gross negligence cited elsewhere."

Sanders continued: "The working people, communities of color and other diverse constituencies in Chicago are getting shut out by the elite class and the commercial interests which set the agenda for Chicago Tonight. Thirty-nine out of WTTW's board of sixty self-elected trustees run or control a corporation. Twenty-six trustees run or control a financial firm. Our study proves in many ways what we have all sensed for some time - that the station's call letters really do stand for 'Winnetka Talks To Wilmette'. We're going to have to fully discuss and rethink the way our public media is managed, funded and structured."

Founded in 2002, Chicago Media Action (CMA) is a membership-run organization that monitors and analyzes media in the Chicago area in order to expose the economic and political interests that control them. We seek to democratically empower and organize the working-class to challenge corporate control of major media, and to create their own media.


The Executive Summary

The Full Study (including the Executive Summary)

The Appendix

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