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Networks Yawn as Natural Gas Plummets

     Last September, after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf Coast, the media regularly warned of rising natural gas prices and exploding heating bills. Yet, when these same energy costs plummeted a year later – and utility companies announced large reductions in charges to consumers – the networks paid little attention to the news.

 

     On September 14, natural gas prices declined to their lowest point in two years. As reported by the Associated Press: “October natural gas futures fell 55.7 cents to settle at $4.892 per 1,000 cubic feet on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The last time front-month natural gas futures settled below $5 was Sept. 16, 2004.”

 

     This is certainly good news for those who use natural gas as a heating fuel: “Residential and industrial consumers of natural gas will no doubt appreciate natural gas prices that are more than 50 percent lower than a year ago.”

 

     A number of energy utility companies around the country have already declared price cuts. This is true of NStar Gas, which announced Friday that “residential customers will pay on average $38 a month less than they did last winter under proposed rates that would take effect Nov. 1.”

 

     Folks in Colorado are also going to get some relief this winter according to the Rocky Mountain News: “Xcel also requested a 48 percent to 50 percent reduction in the price of natural gas it will charge customers in October compared with the same month a year earlier.” Utility companies in Iowa, Michigan, and Pennsylvania have given similar news to their customers.

 

     Yet only one of the three broadcast networks bothered to report Thursday’s huge decline in natural gas prices. ABC’s Charles Gibson had this to say on the September 14 “World News”: “With colder weather on the way, there is welcome news tonight for the more than 60 million American homes that heat with natural gas. Bills should be lower this winter. Word of record supply pushed futures prices to a two-year low today.”

 

     To be sure, the broadcast networks weren’t so uninterested in natural gas prices last September when they were on the rise. On Sept. 21, 2005, “World News Tonight” did an entire segment on how Katrina was going to impact energy costs, inviting on an energy industry analyst who stated: “Natural gas prices this winter are going to be probably the highest in history. Consumers will be seeing heating bills that they've never seen before.”

 

     Though CBS chose not to report the good news on September 14, the network was surely interested in this issue last year when prices were heading higher. On the Sept. 9, 2005, “Evening News,” correspondent Anthony Mason began a lengthy report on this subject: “The dog may not be the only one barking at the heating oil man this winter after you get your bill. Heating oil prices are expected to jump more than 30 percent in the Northeast; Natural gas prices to soar more than 70 percent in the Midwest.”

 

     And, even as NBC chose not to share the great heating bill news with its viewers September 14, the network was all over this issue last year. Between the “Today” show and the “Nightly News,” NBC did a total of nine reports last September on how Hurricanes Katrina and Rita were going to cause higher natural gas and heating bills.

 

     Unfortunately, it appears that the networks pay attention to energy prices only when they are on the rise.



Noel Sheppard is a contributing writer to the Business & Media Institute, as well as a contributing editor for the Media Research Center’s NewsBusters.org.  He welcomes feedback at nsheppard@costlogic.com.