Study: Cable and broadcast news networks largely ignore planned net neutrality repeal

In the eight days after news broke that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai wants to fully repeal net neutrality rules, cable and broadcast news networks -- aside from MSNBC -- have given the story very little coverage.

In this study:

  • The broadcast networks’ morning news programs, nightly newscasts, and Sunday political talk shows covered net neutrality for a combined five minutes.
  • CNN devoted less than 10 minutes to net neutrality. Fox News covered the story for just over 11 minutes, and the bulk of coverage was interviews with Pai defending his proposal.
  • While MSNBC devoted the most coverage (nearly 47 minutes) to the story, NBC failed to cover net neutrality on both NBC Nightly News and the network’s flagship Sunday political talk show, Meet the Press.  

FCC chair Ajit Pai releases proposal to “fully dismantle” net neutrality regulations

Politico: “FCC plans total repeal of net neutrality rules.” From a November 20 Politico article:

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai will reveal plans to his fellow commissioners on Tuesday to fully dismantle the agency's Obama-era net neutrality regulations, people familiar with the plans said, in a major victory for the telecom industry in the long-running policy debate.

The commission will vote on the proposal in December, some seven months after it laid the groundwork for scuttling the rules that require internet service providers like Comcast or AT&T to treat web traffic equally.

President Donald Trump-appointed Pai’s plan would jettison rules that prohibit internet service providers from blocking or slowing web traffic or creating so-called paid internet fast lanes, the people familiar with the changes said. [Politico, 11/20/17]

Repeal of net neutrality rules could allow ISPs to charge more or block access to certain websites. According to a New York Times article, internet service providers (ISPs) may be empowered to prioritize their own online services at the expense of their competitors by charging higher fees or controlling access to rival websites or services. Pai’s plan would also reverse the decision to treat internet access as a public utility. [The New York Times, 11/21/17]

News networks -- with one exception -- have largely dropped the ball on covering net neutrality

Since November 20, NBC has not covered net neutrality at all. A Media Matters review of morning news, evening news, and Sunday political talk shows on the three major broadcast news networks revealed that NBC has yet to report on this story. CBS spent about four and a half minutes on the story while ABC gave net neutrality just 25 seconds in a single news brief on World News Tonight with David Muir.

MSNBC covered net neutrality far more than any other cable network. A Media Matters review of all cable news programming on the three major cable news networks found that MSNBC far outpaced coverage on net neutrality compared to CNN and Fox News Channel. The network was the first to report the story on television on The Rachel Maddow Show on November 20 and since then has spent nearly 47 minutes on net neutrality. In that same time period, CNN devoted approximately 10 minutes -- the bulk of which came in a single segment on Reliable Sources -- and Fox News spent a little more than 11 minutes on Pai’s proposal. Fox’s coverage included two interviews with Pai on Fox & Friends. Pai gave no other interviews in segments included in this study.

Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

In the wake of the breaking news, MSNBC represented 90 percent of all cable coverage. On November 20 and 21, cable news spent close to 28 minutes on net neutrality; MSNBC's coverage represented more than 24 minutes of that. CNN spent only two minutes in these first days while Fox News gave the story just 29 seconds in a single news brief on Special Report with Bret Baier.

NBC and MSNBC are owned by internet service provider Comcast, which stands to benefit from the repeal. While NBC did not cover the planned repeal, MSNBC repeatedly mentioned in its coverage that it is owned by Comcast. A merger between Time Warner -- which currently owns CNN -- and internet service provider AT&T is currently pending review, which was covered during the Reliable Sources segment.


Media Matters searched the Snapstream database of television video transcripts for any mentions of “net neutrality,” "Federal Communications Commission,” or “FCC” from November 20 to November 27, 2017 on the three broadcast news networks -- ABC, CBS, and NBC -- and the three major cable news networks -- CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC. We also searched the Nexis transcript database for the same terms. Since November 23 was Thanksgiving, some networks altered their regularly scheduled programming on that day.

We included any segment about FCC chair Ajit Pai’s proposal or the FCC vote scheduled for December 14 following Politico’s November 20 report on the proposal. We timed all such segments from start to finish, and excluded any breaks to other news or to commercials. We also included portions of multi-topic segments when two or more speakers discussed the FCC chair’s proposal or the scheduled vote on the proposal with one another. In those instances, we only timed the relevant discussion and not the entire segment. We excluded passing mentions of the proposal or its vote, and we excluded teasers of upcoming segments about the proposal or its vote.

Correction: Media Matters originally reported that CBS ran stories totaling approximately two minutes. The correct timing for CBS is four minutes and 34 seconds. We regret the error.