TV News Turns Blind Eye Towards SOPA CoverageBy: Chris Richardson - January 6, 2012
Here’s an interesting query: If you were a general manager of local CBS affiliate and you noticed a great deal of Internet traction concerning steps the US government is trying to take in its efforts to eliminate online piracy, how would you cover the story? What if the general public’s reaction was largely negative, how would you cover the story? Lastly, what if the company that owned your station — CBS, Fox, NBC, ABC — was a listed supporter of a bill that’s being trashed by just about every tech writer in the land, how would you cover the story?
Another question, would your station cover the subject at all?
According to findings by the Media Matters group, the answer is no, your station would not even pay lip service to the topic, at least when SOPA/PIPA is concerned. Because SOPA has been the topic of discussion on many online outlets, Media Matters investigated whether or not the network news channels — not just local affiliates, either; CNN, Fox News and MSNBC were included in their study — were covering the topic. The answer, once you consider which companies support the bill, is not surprising.
While the online outlets of these news properties have indeed offered SOPA articles with regularity, the televised broadcasts continue to neglect the subject, almost to the point of willfully ignoring it:
Despite all of this, the response from American television news outlets has been to almost completely ignore the story during their evening programming. The lone exception was a segment on CNN’s The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer in December, during which CNN parent company Time Warner’s support for the legislation was not disclosed. (Though Fox News Channel has apparently not touched the story during evening programming, conservative/libertarian host Andrew Napolitano has run several segments vocally opposing SOPA on his program, which runs on the separate Fox Business Network.)
Does the fact that the companies that own these broadcast news outlets are listed supporters of SOPA play a part in the coverage? Perhaps. Media Matters also points out the ownership dilemma in their findings:
ABC and CBS are listed as supporters of the bill on the House Judiciary Committee website, along with Comcast/NBCUniversal (which owns MSNBC and NBC News), Viacom (CBS), News Corporation (Fox News), and Time Warner (CNN). Disney Publishing Worldwide, a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Corporation, which owns ABC, is also listed as a supporter, as are other Disney properties such as ESPN and Hyperion publishing.
The question is, how would these companies cover SOPA/PIPA if they were opposed to the bills? Would all the Internet chatter concerning the bills influence the positions these companies would take if they didn’t have a vested interest in seeing the bill(s) passed?
Considering the abject lack of coverage, especially for a topic that’s getting so much traction online, such a conclusion doesn’t require a massive leap in logic to reach.