NewsChannel 9 Cancels Featuring Mayoral Candidates After Fee Sparks Controversy

Photo by Dewayne Bingham

By Lorena Grajales, Editor-in-Chief and Zoe Morton, Staff Writer-

Mayoral candidates for the city of Chattanooga came forward to express their disappointment after a local prominent news channel offered to promote their political campaigns on their non-news segment, in exchange for a lump sum fee of one thousand dollars.

As election day draws near, candidates have battled to have the upper hand in the race. For some, the possibility of community outreach is limited due to the monetary obligations needed to campaign at a larger scale.

On Thursday, Jan. 28, WTVC NewsChannel 9 delivered an invitation letter to candidates, in which they offered promotional time in their lifestyle show ‘This N’ That,’ for candidates to share their political platforms to the community.

The segment was planned to be pre-recorded to launch this week during the 12:30 p.m. program, but was later canceled after misleading information was released, regarding which segment the participants would be showcased on.

The letter explained the essence of the interview and how the segment was planned to run.

“TNT will be offering a candid and open conversation in a relaxed environment to tell your story to our viewers…. Each candidate will appear in a two minute and no longer than a two-and-a-half-minute interview to speak about your platform.”

UTC alumnus and mayoral candidate, George Ryan Love said that regardless of the segment they would be featured on, the price tag was out of line.

“If only the rich have access to the policy, then nothing is going to change…I believe sometimes you have to hold media accountable, our democracy cannot be bought and sold,” Love said.

Political Science Assistant Professor, Dr. Jeremy Strickler, said this issue raised concerns about the classist undertones in the media.

“…what’s concerning about that especially at the local level, especially in a race like this, is there are just candidates with more means than others,” he stated.

Most candidates run on a platform of equality for Chattanooga, including discrepancies in neighborhoods and schools caused by lack of funds. This caused lack of the funds for the interview for many.

Vice President and General Manager for Chattanooga’s Sinclair Broadcast Group, Todd Ricke clarified that because the candidates were invited to participate on their lifestyle segment and not the main news segment, the fee for promotion was considered adequate.  

“At no point was this an opportunity to be featured on any news segment, rather on ‘This N’ That,’ an entertainment segment program that exists separately from our news department. This program operates strictly for sponsored and promotional materials, and all segments are properly labeled as sponsored content,” Ricke said.

Andrew McLaren, a mayoral candidate said the news channel’s charge of one thousand dollars was out of the question, and how he considers the whole system to be biased in favor of those with big bucks.

“It’s un-ethical and an example of what’s wrong with our current political system of ‘pay to play,’” he said. “It’s really not fair because if you don’t have a ton of money, it’s almost impossible to win…they [large corporations] say I can’t even talk to them if I don’t raise one-hundred thousand dollars.”

“I learned a big lesson…It should be about who has the best ideas, not who has the most money” McLaren said.

To compensate, NewsChannel 9 premiered the candidates on their website which can be viewed here. Election Day will be on Tuesday, March 2 and UTC students can find more information on the Mocs Go Vote website, here.

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