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TV News ‘Mayhem Index’ Targeted

A media watchdog group will ask the Federal Communications Commission to force four TV stations in the Denver market to curb sex and violence in their news as a condition of license renewal.

Since the FCC no longer requires TV stations to meet any criteria in how to handles news, such as the previous fairness and equal time doctrines, the group is attacking the stations as threats to the public safety.

“We’re asking the FCC to protect us. What these stations are broadcasting is harmful,” said Paul Klite, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Media Watch.

The four commercial VHF stations are KUSA, the NBC affiliate; KCNC, CBS; KMGH, ABC; and KWGN, an independent. Klite’s group monitored news broadcasts on the four from 1994 through 1997 and came up with a “mayhem index,” the percentage of news about crime, disasters, war and terrorism in each news show.

On KWGN, 45 percent of the news monitored concerned violence, according to the report. KUSA had 47 percent, KCNC had 54 percent, and KMGH had 55 percent.

The report also criticized the stations for providing limited coverage on important local issues, including elections, the environment, education, arts, poverty, children and AIDS.

The group said it will file a challenge with the FCC on Tuesday, asking it to deny new licenses for the stations unless they limit violence and sex in their news programs.

Klite and other media critics regard the license challenges as a national test case.

“It’s a very historic thing. Nobody has ever done this before: go after all the major stations in a town. It could give the FCC a chance to send a message to the broadcasters,” said Danny Schechter, who wrote “The More You Watch, The Less You Know.”

Jack MacKenzie, news director of KCNC, questioned how Klite’s group classified stories. For example, he said, would the Monica Lewinsky investigation be a sex story even though it involves allegations of perjury by President Clinton?

“We have a lot of people who give us advice on how to cover the news. And we take a lot of it seriously. We do have a public license and we do have to take it seriously,” MacKenzie said.

The other stations had no immediate comment when contacted by The Associated Press.

A study of eight major markets by the University of Miami, including New York City, found twice as much crime news as political news on local TV, and 15 times more crime news than education news.


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