Friday, October 07, 2005


LOCAL WATCHDOG: Grand Rapids group describes TV license renewal efforts

Here is a description of TV license-renewal advocacy efforts undertaken by the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy.

Posted for:
Jeff Smith
GR Institute for Information Democracy
711 Bridge St. NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49504

License Renewal Campaign Summary

"The Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) has been monitoring local TV news for 7 years and working with community groups to hold local media accountable. The TV Licensing Renewal process in some
sense has developed over the past 7 years. What follows is a summary of the past year we have been working on our campaign.

"The timing in many ways was perfect, since the campaign kicked off after the 2004 Elections. Many people were not only concerned about election fraud but how the news media was reporting on the candidates, ballot
proposals and voter participation. We used the data and hours of examples to generate some initial interest in the Local TV Licensing Renewal Process. We held an
initial forum in January of 2005 after we had prepared some resources on Licensing Renewal, particularly the Community Guide we developed.

"We also created handouts on major areas of coverage in addition to elections, such as war coverage, children's educational TV requirements and race/gender/class representation. (See menu at the main page ) In addition we created contact information handouts for the FCC and the local TV stations we monitored (ABC, NBC, and FOX affiliates), a Public File check list for visiting stations and inspecting their public files, and a series of community standards for area specific news coverage. (See menu at the main page )

"The next step was to contact many of the groups we have had relationships with over the years who were now including media activism into their action plans. We conducted 62 public presentations to over 1,000 people
during a 6 month period, always incorporating new data and examples of TV news stories. For example, we were able to use election data from the Spring School Board Elections and the August
Primary Elections
for local races. Having the most current data and examples on an i-book that we could use for a presentation was very effective in getting the point across. We also made a DVD version of one of the longer presentations (45 minutes) and played it on the local public access station as well as providing copies to anyone who requested them from the
community. (Also available to anyone in the country who would like one - free of charge )

"In addition we took advantage of the hot button issues in the community and how the local TV stations were reporting on these issues. This provided a more practical application of License Renewal since it was
integral to local campaigns.

"Here are two examples:

"First, there was a new round of community outrage against the police department for claims of police brutality and racial profiling. We monitored the TV news coverage of this issue and would attend public meetings. At those meetings we would present our findings and how the news coverage was contributing to racial profiling. Here is an online example of one of the stories .

"We would provide handouts on the campaign as well as announce our next public presentation or work with community groups to organize additional sessions at area churches and neighborhood associations.

"The other hot button issue was the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which was up for a vote for several months and finally was decided in July of 2005. There was a coalition of area labor, environmental, fair trade, student and faith based groups looking at CAFTA. Again, we provided data and looked at ongoing coverage with an example like this and
Media Alerts like this .

"This was a particularly important issue as West Michigan had lost thousands of manufacturing jobs to NAFTA over the past 10 years and that had received a significant amount of coverage. Unfortunately, it did not translate into
CAFTA coverage. The coalition of groups working on this issue made media coverage a major focus of their work.

"We also worked with groups opposing the war in Iraq, groups working on sexual assault prevention , prostitution , health and children's issues. All of these groups provided a venue for presenting and an
opportunity for people to sign letters. We did provide sample letters and brought ready made letters when doing presentations to increase the amount of letters we could send to the FCC. It ended up that we generated over 1,000 letters and sent copies to the local TV stations for their public file. We would also use our online news dissection section as a resource for people to
use for assessing the ongoing TV news coverage as well as on air news analysis on a radio show we produce, Catalyst Radio. The first 10 minutes of the show is devoted to local news analysis that we also posted online at .

"Lastly, we organized a public hearing on September 13. The forum was designed for people to present verbal and written comments on how the local TV news was SERVING THE PUBLIC INTEREST. We had 2 hours of commentary on a wide range of issues from people in the community, many which we had worked with previously, but also people who just heard about the event and showed up. The three TV stations were invited with the stated purpose that they were to listen to all the comments and then be allowed a chance to respond at the end of the night. You can read the
public comments and the station's responses at the bottom of the page of this online link .

"The plan now is to meet twice a year with the stations and to get them to adopt the community standards for local TV news coverage and Children's Educational TV. We also have a regular media alert that goes out to many of the individuals and groups that participated in the campaign and ongoing monitoring resources for the community. While we did not get any of the local TV licenses denied we did create more awareness of the Local TV broadcaster obligations to the public, more possibilities for media accountability, and most importantly a media reform/media activist movement in the Grand Rapids area."

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