Responsibility should trump ratings in election coverage


Had your civic senses on snooze control, right?

Vegas viewers likely considered Tuesday's primary coverage and declaration of the victors and vanquished as must-flee-TV -- election episodes of "Last Comic Standing" and "The Biggest Loser."

Results led most late-night newscasts, though KVBC-TV, Channel 3, pushed past midnight by Olympics coverage, led with an Olympics recap. Only KLAS-TV, Channel 8, deep-sixed their network for prime-time reporting and analysis, sidelining CBS' "Without a Trace" rerun. Las Vegas 1's news format allowed for nearly two more hours of Channel 8 coverage.

Excessive? No, whether voter turnout was small, medium or Costco-size. Competitors were comparatively anemic.

KVVU-TV, Channel 5's 10 p.m. news spent 20 minutes on the primary, then mixed in other stories, largely relegating results to bottom-of-the-screen updates, as did KTNV-TV, Channel 13, which opted for ABC's "Medical Mysteries" at 10 p.m. Had Channel 3 sliced into NBC's Olympics coverage, viewers would've splashed gasoline on the news director, lit a match and roasted marshmallows on the flaming carcass. But neither they nor Channel 13 rerouted primary coverage to secondary channels 122 and 123.

After a shift to digital signals, Congress enabled stations to create offshoots in their bandwidth that could handle such programming, rather than just simulcasting shows and multiplying profits.

People not interested? Not the point. A broadcaster's responsibility -- in spirit, if no longer by strict Federal Communications Commission statute -- trumps viewer apathy and drama-free elections. (Though this one held intrigue, including the fate of Judge Elizabeth Halverson. She got creamed.)

Primaries are as sexy as a muumuu and merely a prelude to the general election. Still, they're essential to selecting public servants, with an informed citizenry a vital cog in the democracy machine, as per those fuddy-duddy founding fathers. Newspapers, Web sites and radio are invaluable, but TV still determines what's of mass interest.

Once upon a TV time, the FCC required stations to prove a programming commitment to public issues for license renewal. Regs were relaxed during the Nixon administration, and the Reagan crew released stations from meeting quotas. The FCC still proclaims the principle, but if it isn't toothless, it had its wisdom teeth pulled.

Election coverage alone won't reflect locals' programming commitment. They also participate in off-air community causes. But primaries merit more attention as a public trust, despite public disinterest.

If spiking viewership comes down to sexing it up, how about coverage come-ons? Depending on the political debacle of the day, try "Sex Scandal in the City," "Dirty, Sexy Campaign Money" or "Desperate House Members" (even if it's an Assembly).

P.S.: We're the Review-Journal and we approved this column.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.

 

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