Lawmakers' pique over the networks' incredible shrinking news hole is prompting legislation that will shorten the time broadcasters have between license renewals and require full commission review of

WASHINGTON, D.C. (The Hollywood Reporter) -- Lawmakers' pique over the networks' incredible shrinking news hole is prompting legislation that will shorten the time broadcasters have between license renewals and require full commission review of 5% of all licenses.

The legislation was introduced by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on Feb. 15 after the release of a report by the Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California found evening TV newscasts contained little coverage of local political campaigns last year. It also would require broadcasters to post on their Internet sites information detailing their commitment to local public-affairs programming, and it calls for the Federal Communications Commission to complete its open proceeding on whether public-interest obligations should apply to broadcasters in the digital era.

According to the survey, 64% of 4,333 broadcasts examined by the center included at least one election story. A typical half-hour contained 3 minutes, 11 seconds of campaign coverage, the report claims.

While 55% of the broadcasts contained a presidential story, just 8% of broadcasts contained a story about a local candidate race for U.S. House, state house seats, city council seats and other local and regional offices. Eight times more coverage went to stories about accidental injuries, the Lear Center said.

"If a local candidate wants to be on TV and can't afford advertising, his only hope is to have freak accident," McCain said.

The researchers monitored evening-news broadcasts by 44 major network affiliates in markets that account for 23% of all TV viewers: New York; Los Angeles; Philadelphia; Dallas; Seattle; Miami; Denver; Orlando; Tampa, Fla.; Dayton, Ohio; and Des Moines, Iowa.

McCain argued that the dearth of local political coverage on local TV is a result of the increasing consolidation of the media industry.

Broadcasters disputed the study, claiming that the foundation surveyed only 11 of 210 local TV markets and left out thousands of hours of election coverage in morning news programs, noon news programs, 4 p.m. local news programs, late night programming like "Nightline" and weekend political talk shows.

"The Lear Center review is disappointing on so many levels that it would be a disservice to the academic community to label this legitimate research," the National Assn. of Broadcasters said.

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