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Tom – This article is a fairly short one about how the state elections panel approved the wording to a proposed ballot initiative which would alter the state constitution. This particular ballot initiative would eliminate “preferential treatment to groups or individuals” and “ban public institutions from using affirmative action programs.” Most of the article is devoted to the political fighting over the specific language of the proposal, particularly the use of the phrase “preferential treatment.” The article does mention at the very end that the elections panel had initially rejected the proposal as they believed that “signatures had been fraudulently gathered under false pretences with those signing thinking it was a pro-affirmative action petition.” Also included in the article was the actual wording of the proposal that was approved and a link to the Michigan secretary of state website where the ballot language is posted.
Linda – Was there other information included that would help the reader understand the issues surrounding this ballot proposal.
Tom – There was not any other contextual information provided. Certainly, it was good that the GR Press included the actual proposal language as well as the link to the state of Michigan website. Beyond that though, little background information about was provided. As the election draws closer, the Grand Rapids Press would do their readers a service by exploring both the supporters and financiers of this ballot initiative as well as those opposed to it and the facts about affirmative action programs in Michigan.
Linda – On Friday, January 20 the Grand Rapids Press ran a story on who is running for the State Senate seat currently held by Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema. Jeff Smith, what would readers learn from this story?
Jeff – The story focuses on the recently announced candidacy of former State Representative James Koetje. Koetje becomes the 3rd Republican to announce their running for this seat, along with Joanne Voorhees and Mark Jansen, making all of the GOP candidates former members of the State House. The article however, doesn’t provide readers with information on Koetje’s platform or voting record while in the House, instead it focuses on a 2002 dispute about whether or not Koetje moved his residence in order to run in a re-districted race.
Linda – Is this typical of how election stories are framed, around personalities or conflicts instead of issues?
Jeff – It is. We have been documenting this kind of reporting for years, both in the GR Press and on local TV news. Another election story example from the past week also doesn’t provide readers with any real substantive information. On Thursday, January 19 the Press ran a short piece on how much Senate incumbent Debbie Stabenow has for her campaign. Beyond the figure of $5.7 million, the story doesn’t look at what individuals or Political Action Committees have been the primary donors to her re-election bid. The story does mention the source for the amount of money raised by Stabenow, the Center for Responsive Politics, but no details about where the money has come from. According to the site about 80% of the money is from individual contributions and 20% from PAC money. Starting this week, GRIID will be providing ongoing documentation of all election coverage for 2006, both on candidates and ballot initiatives.
Linda – On Wednesday January 18 both WXXM 13 and WXMI Fox reported on the kidnapping of American reporter Jill Carroll. What would viewers have learned from this story, Tom?
Tom – These two stories were pretty typical of the numerous stories that aired last week on this topic. Both of the stories note that Carroll, an American reporter in Iraq, was kidnapped on January 7th by an unknown insurgent group. The group threatened to kill her in 72 hours if all Iraqi female prisoners held by the US occupation forces were not released. Both news stories note that the US military claims to have eight Iraqi female prisoners in their custody. In the news clips, Carroll is characterized as an “honest” reporter who “devoted herself unselfishly to promoting understanding of the Iraqi people.” No further information is provided in either story as to the actual topics that Carroll reported on or how she is viewed by the Iraqis that she reported on. Carroll was very critical of the US occupation of Iraq and much of her reporting centered around the cost to the Iraqi people of the occupation. She was an independent reporter who refused to be imbedded with US military forces. In a statement demanding her release, the influential Association of Muslim Scholars referred to her as “one of the anti-occupation journalists. Indeed, she wrote many articles that explain the negative signs of the occupation.” The fact that her journalism was very critical of the US occupation of Iraq was absent or very downplayed in these local news segments about her kidnapping.
Linda – How was the topic of the kidnappers demands and the US governments reply to them reported?
Tom – These news pieces noted that the kidnappers demanded that release of all Iraqi female prisoners and that the US claimed to be holding only eight Iraqi Women. No verification is given that this is actually the true number of women being held by US forces. Also, it is not mentioned that this is the same demand made in several other kidnappings by Iraqi insurgent groups. In 2004 the US military was claiming that they only held two Iraqi female prisoners, a claim that was shown to be untrue by the revelations that female inmates had been held and abused at Abu Graib prison that same year. Given the fact that the US military has shown a pattern of deception on this topic of female prisoners, viewers should ask themselves would it be reasonable for reporters to question Government sources about the accuracy of their claims about the number of female prisoners held in Iraq?
Linda – On Saturday, January 21 WZZM 13 ran a 1 hour special entitled “The making of a Marine.” Jeff Smith what was this special all about?
Jeff – The special basically took viewers through the process that someone who enters the Marines goes through. It was somewhat an overview of basic training, with recruits going through the obstacle course, educational classes and even the rifle range. The special also features interviews with Marine recruits and officers talking about their experiences. The 1 hour special is all positive, with no voices critical of life as a Marine recruit, nor what Marines are likely to do in live combat.
Linda – So why do you think channel 13 ran this special and do they have any obligation to provide a counter-perspective?
Jeff – It’s difficult to know exactly why they ran this special. I wrote the news director who didn’t give me an answer about why they broadcast this show. The program was produced by Marine Times, a publication owned by the media giant Gannett, the same company that owns channel 13. According to a Media Release from the group, this show was sent to all Gannett owned stations in the country. As for any obligation to run a counter-perspective, the Federal Communications Commission did away with what was called the Fairness Doctrine in the 1980’s, which mandated dissenting opinions, but the current FCC regulations aren’t specific enough to obligate broadcasters to air a counter-perspective, unless there was adequate public pressure to do so.