NewsCorp Up for Censure by US Media Rating Council

07 June 2004

The Media Rating Council -- which represents America's TV and radio broadcasters, cablecasters, print organizations, advertisers, internet organizations, advertising agencies and industry trade associations -- is poised to rap the knuckles of one of its most influential members: News Corporation's Fox Television Stations Group.

Fox is one of the more vociferous supporters of the Don't Count Us Out Coalition, a loose-knit alliance of those opposing the new viewing measurement technology about to be unilaterally introduced in metropolitan New York by Nielsen Media Research.

In addition to Fox, membership of the coalition includes black and Hispanic community groups, elected officials and national associations. All complain that the changes about to be imposed by Nielsen will result in an undercounting of black and Latino viewers.

The disquiet centers around the statistical ethnic mix of Nielsen's Local People Meter research sampling, an issue of key importance in the multicultural New York area [WAMN: 30-Apr-04].

Among the outspoken critics of the proposed sampling methodology are media-owners (including Lachlan Murdoch, chairman of Fox Television), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and such formidable politicians as the Democrat senator for New York, Hilary Rodham Clinton. The Media Rating Council itself is reportedly uneasy about the changes.

Nielsen president/ceo Susan D Whiting is peeved that Fox is lending its voice (and dollars) to the coalition's ad and PR campaign, which she accuses of "tampering with the sample" -- allegedly warping opinions about Nielsen among viewers who are current or potential members of the households the company surveys.

The campaign avers that "any action by Nielsen other than a complete postponement of local people meters is just another irresponsible stall tactic".

Complains Whiting: "A campaign like this could make it more difficult to get people to cooperate with us because they question the process. It's influencing the marketplace in a way that isn't good for anybody and we'd like that to stop."

The solution, she argues, is not that Nielsen should listen to its critics and take pause as the coalition proposes; instead she has urged the MRC to censure -- or even sanction -- Fox for its temerity in opposing Nielsen publicly.

Nielsen says its disputed LPM sampling methodology will be replicated in Chicago and Los Angeles in two months time, rolling out across the ten biggest US markets by the end of next year.

Meantime, the thorny issue of member versus member was debated by the MRC last Thursday. The outcome remains firmly under the wraps.

Data sourced from: New York Times; additional content by WARC staff