Media watchdog Media Matters found that most major TV news networks haven’t been giving SOPA prime-time coverage in any substantial terms. In a recently released report, the research organization discovered that “most major television news outlets — MSNBC, Fox News, ABC, CBS, and NBC — have ignored the bill during their evening broadcasts.”
Media Matters‘ data was based on a search of the Lexis-Nexis database from Oct. 1, 2011 through Jan. 4, 2012. Daytime coverage wasn’t included, nor was Shephard Smith’s show, which airs at 7 p.m. ET on Fox News Channel.
The report singled out CNN as the sole major news network which discussed SOPA and its potential implications during prime time. The bill was mentioned just once during a segment on The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer. Judge Andrew Napolitano, an outspoken libertarian who often appears on Fox News Channel, has also railed against the bill, but only on segments shown on the separate Fox Business Network.
“The report speaks for itself about what TV news chooses to cover,” says Media Matters Executive Vice President Ari Rabin-Havt. “When you have a major public policy debate that has massive implications and is a major source of lobbying revenue on Capitol Hill, it says something.”
ABC and CBS appear directly on the U.S. Congress’ list of SOPA supporters. The parent companies of NBC/MSNBC and Fox News Channel appear on that list as well. (Comcast/NBCUniversal and News Corporation, respectively.)
Media Matters’ report did not include online coverage, where all of the major networks have reported on SOPA to some extent. The Internet is increasingly the primary source of news for Americans, according to a study published by the Pew Research Center last year. But television still reigns supreme.
Rabin-Havt says SOPA is too important not to cover during evening news broadcasts.
“We were upfront about our methodology, but I think this is a major bill that should be covered during prime-time hours. If a story’s important, they [news networks] should pursue it in both venues,” he said.
SOPA, along with its sister Senate bill (the Protect IP Act, or PIPA), are hotly contested pieces of legislation with supporters and detractors on both sides of the political isle. The bill was introduced by Texas Republican Congressman Lamar Smith as a way to combat online piracy and copyright infringement. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) calls SOPA an attempted “takeover of the Internet,” while House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) tweeted that we “need to find a better solution.”
Currently, SOPA, which stalled in the House Judicial Committee, has been shelved until later in January. Pro-SOPA groups consider the bill a necessary tool to fight intellectual property theft. However, Congress has been lambasted by online denizens and SOPA haters for failure to understand the consequences the bill could have for the Internet.
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform announced Monday that it’s bringing Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, DNS expert Dan Kaminsky and Lanham Napier, chief executive of Rackspace Hosting to testify about SOPA. All three are vociferous opponents of the legislation.
Ohanian recently told Inc that “Congress doesn’t understand how significant the Internet infrastructure really is. This bill wouldn’t even solve the issue of online piracy.”
None of the networks mentioned in the report were available for comment. We will update this post with any responses that we receive.
Image courtesy of iStockphoto, Grafissimo