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Liberty and Free Airtime for All

And a personnel mess at WBTV

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As summer gets hotter, so does presidential election rhetoric and spending for TV, radio, and print ads, which we'll suffer through until after November. But what about government-mandated free airtime for political candidates? Talk about that issue is heating up again, as well.

A study by the Annenberg School for Communication shows that more than half of top-rated local news broadcasts in the seven weeks before the 2002 elections contained no campaign coverage. That has US Sen. John McCain threatening to force broadcasters to provide free airtime if the situation doesn't improve.

Locally, stations are ramping up coverage and will offer some free airtime to candidates, as they have in years past. WSOC-TV in particular is rolling out its "Candidate Access 2004," which promises expanded election coverage and on-air debate time for gubernatorial and congressional candidates, as well as public service announcements urging voter registration starting in July.

If anyone thought WBTV's firing of 5pm anchorman Michael Scott after just six months on the job was due to stalled ratings, think again. According to the many folks at WBTV who will talk about it, only not on the record for fear for being sent to Abu Ghraib prison, the Scott Affair was not a pretty one.

There are rumors of sexual harassment complaints from women in the WBTV newsroom, no on-air chemistry with co-anchor Shannon Bream, who is said to have had problems with him as well, and subpar performance as a nightside reporter. Management does not comment on such things, and others claim Scott has threatened legal action, as well. In other words, you won't be seeing this story on the 6 o'clock news.

In the May Nielsen ratings book for the Charlotte market, it was status quo in most places, but one number is an "Ay Caramba!" Ad salespeople sell winning shows, but they also sell based on what show wins what demographic. If a show is a hit with kids, that's where you sell cereal or Carowinds spots. You get the picture.

Thus the "winner" of adults aged 18-49 at 11pm on weekdays, where all God's children should be tuning in to a local newscast, is a hoot. Bill and Debi weren't winning those key viewers. No, it was Homer, Marge, Bart, and Lisa on WCCB-TV. Yep, The Simpsons..

Stay tuned.

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