Writer’s Guild says media consolidation undermines quality of broadcast news

The Writer’s Guild of America, East (WGAE) has sent comments to the FCC challenging the arguments of broadcasters that ownership consolidation can help the quality of news programming.

The guild’s comments were in connection with the FCC’s quadrennial regulatory review of rules on broadcast ownership.

“Continued consolidation of media ownership undermines the quality of broadcast news,” said Lowell Peterson, executive director of the WGAE. “It reduces the number and diversity of perspectives presented to the American public.” Peterson said additional resources should be devoted to investigating, writing and producing news and public affairs programming on television, radio and the Internet.

“The Writers Guild of America, East takes issue with the assertion made by various media companies that consolidation of ownership frees up resources to improve news coverage,” the submission to the FCC said. “There is no substitute for spending on trained, experienced journalists and giving them the time and resources necessary to investigate, write, and produce material that is well-researched, thoughtful and reliable.

“Simply permitting television, radio, Internet or newspaper outlets to combine will inevitably result in less substance, in the absence of clearly-defined requirements that specific levels of resources be devoted to journalism,” the guild said.

The document said adding hours of broadcast time per week, and spreading it over a wider variety of outlets, does not enhance diversity or quality, unless staff is expanded and given the independence and sufficient means to do the work.

“Fewer news writers, editors, reporters, camera crews and producers means fewer independent voices; less time and effort devoted to investigation and production of quality pieces; fewer opportunities to explore contrary points of few or overlooked facts; and less time and energy to sharpen questions and make stories more compelling to the viewer,” the guild wrote.

In tentative conclusions, the FCC has decided to stay with its traditional trio of competition, localism and diversity in viewing consolidation issues. But the WGAE found those without meaning unless a fourth criterion is added that insures quality in local newsgathering.

The Writers Guild of America, East, AFL-CIO (WGAE) is a labor union representing writers in motion pictures, television, cable, digital media and broadcast news. It negotiates and administers contracts that protect the creative and economic rights of its members.