On the eve of a congressional probe into Nielsen Media Research's new method for measuring local TV audiences, critics point to its latest data release as evidence that the system -- which uses the so-called Local People Meters -- continues to undercount the number of Hispanic and black viewers.

In an orchestrated campaign led and financed by the "fair and balanced" News Corporation [to quote the humorous strapline of its Fox News subsidiary], Nielsen has been assailed by black and Hispanic groups claiming they are being "undercounted" by the new electronic system which replaces set-top boxes and manual diaries.

It It will come as a surprise to few that NewsCorp's Fox Television Stations Group -- which has many Hispanic and black media channels -- fares less well in the ratings than it did under the previous measurement system.

NewsCorp and its ethnic allies claim their fears are vindicated by the latest Nielsen data for New York. This indicates that from 7- 8pm., black viewership was down 32% as measured by LPMs compared with the numbers generated by the previous system.

Nielsen counter-argues that LPMs don't underestimate audiences; conversely, viewing figures had long been overestimated by the previous system. The new meters, insists the researcher, more accurately reflect the range of programs people are watching, including those on niche cable networks.

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