December 6, 2005
The Honorable Barbara Boxer
Attn: Alex Hoehn-Saric
112 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-0505
Dear Senator Boxer:
The Department of Professional Employees (DPE) of the AFL-CIO represents over 500,000 professional and technical employees in the entertainment and news sectors, which includes news writers, editors, producers and technical staff in the TV and radio news industry.
In 1996, Congress gave broadcasters, for free, digital TV licenses that could have brought in up to $70 billion to the federal government if that had been auctioned. Broadcasters were given these licenses in exchange for the promise to serve the public interest, provide local news coverage and offer a diversity of voices. According to a recent study, four companies now control what commercial radio listeners hear on news format stations. Radio news itself is shrinking and in some markets it has almost disappeared. From 1994 through 2001, nationwide the number of full-time radio newsroom staff shrank by 44 percent and part-time news staff by more than 71 percent.
The DPE is deeply troubled about the current effort by one of these media giants—Viacom/CBS—to reduce local news and public affairs reporting and consolidate radio news operations in the major media markets of California, Illinois and New York. By denying listeners and viewers the benefits of competing news sources, citizens of California, Illinois, and New York would actually have fewer options for local news-news about matters that affect them and their families directly on a daily basis.
At the same time, Viacom/CBS is also attempting to remove news producers from the CBS-Writers Guild of America collective bargaining contract. Among their responsibilities, these news producers decide broadcast content. They assure that the highest journalistic standards are applied to news programming. In that regard, it is critical that their work—which determines the substance of the broadcast lineup—is immunized from corporate bias and influence. The WGA-CBS contract does exactly that by ensuring that news producers are protected and free from the fear of retaliation. Removing these members from the Guild, as proposed by CBS, would eradicate an important level of journalistic accountability, likely jeopardizing content integrity and inuring loyalty to commercial goals at the expense of the news objectivity that the public expects and deserves.
These actions by CBS/Viacom are part of a continuing pattern by media conglomerates to downgrade news coverage in small, medium and large media markets. They are also a direct result of the media merger mania that has already taken place and a byproduct of telecommunications deregulation.
As the Senate Commerce Committee continues its assessment of the state of the American media in the context of revisions to the 1996 Telecommunications Act, we urge that the matters raised herein be given due consideration.
Paul E. Almeida