WGAE Joins Congressman Anthony Weiner In Call For Public Notice On Newsroom Consolidation

The Writers Guild of America,

East (WGAE) has publicly joined Congressman Anthony Weiner (NY) in calling for

the FCC to hold public notice on newsroom consolidation. Newsroom consolidations

negatively impact news quality and Writers Guild members' ability to provide

objective news and diverse viewpoints to the public. Newsroom consolidation remains a key sticking

point in the stalled news contract negotiations with CBS.

In

a letter hand-delivered to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin during the recent FCC

hearings on localism held in Chicago, Congressman Weiner said, "I write again

to request that you seek public comment on the specific issue of newsroom

consolidation….The CBS Corporation is demanding, as part of their negotiations

with the Writers Guild of America, the unlimited right to merge news

operations, where it owns multiple facilities within a market….As several

members of Congress wrote to you, when competing stations air the same content

and cease to compete, the public suffers…These newsroom consolidations are not

directly related to ownership consolidation so they do not receive any specific

oversight from the Commission. This issue is important enough to warrant its

own area of investigation."

"We're

thrilled that Congressman Weiner has directly requested public notice specifically

looking into newsroom consolidation. Consolidation harms our members' ability

to deliver quality journalism to the public, shrinking news staffs and

eliminating jobs," said WGAE President Michael Winship, who co-authored the

recently released white paper Broadcast

Newswriters Speak About News Quality. "We hope the FCC and Chairman Martin

respond quickly and schedule this important step as soon as possible. The

Writers Guild will be there."

Also

at the FCC hearing, newly elected WGAE Council member Sue Brown testified about

the impact of cutbacks and consolidation on news quality at her station. A newswriter

and producer at WBBM-TV, Brown testified, "News quality is declining and our

contract negotiations have a serious impact on news quality: CBS is demanding

the unlimited right to merge or combine newsrooms. CBS calls it co-location.

Congressman Weiner calls it ‘double dipping.' We agree….Double dipping stories

may help the bottom line, but democratic values – the foundation of our

localized system of broadcasting – suffer. We join Congressman Weiner in his

request to put the issue up for public notice."

These

calls for public notice are the latest actions bringing attention to the

negative impact corporate cutbacks have on news quality. In August, Congresswoman

Jan Schakowsky (IL), House Democrat Chief

Deputy Whip and a member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, toured

the WBBM-TV newsroom in Chicago

to speak with WGAE newswriters at the CBS station who have been working without

a contract for more than two years. Congressman Eliot Engel (NY) met recently with

a contingent of WGAE members and staff in his Bronx offices to discuss stalled

contract negotiations with ABC and CBS, with an emphasis on how CBS's demand

for the unrestricted right to merge or combine newsrooms and ABC's demand to

remove newswriter/producers from the union would adversely affect the quality

of news in New York.

These

Congressional meetings followed Congressman Weiner's July tour of New York

newsrooms at 1010 WINS, CBS Radio 880AM, CBS Network Radio and ABC Network

Radio, as well as the release of the WGAE's white paper, Broadcast Newswriters Speak About News Quality, which details the

rapid decline in news quality and cites specific examples of how this decline is

caused by the relentless slashing of newsroom budgets and staff.

News

quality is a paramount concern for the Writers Guilds of America, East and West

and their memberships. CBS's last proposal demands the ability to combine

newsrooms in markets, such as WCBS-AM 880 and 1010-WINS in New

York, KNX and KFWB in Los Angeles,

and stations in Illinois.

It also demands the ability to transfer current WGA responsibilities to non-WGA

employees. In November 2006, the WGA-CBS

membership rejected this offer by an overwhelming 99% vote. ABC's last proposal

maintains the company's demand to strip newswriter/producers from union

protection, which helps them maintain their objectivity, and ultimately the

quality of news, against rising corporate pressures.