Sunday, October 28, 2007

When it Comes to Underwriting, Listeners Want Bias

The controversy over Duquesne University requiring WDUQ to return underwriting money from Planned Parenthood -- and Planned Parenthood's response -- has exposed an interesting, and uncomfortable, paradox.

Public radio listeners don't want bias in their news programs, but they want it in their news program supporters.

The 2007 NPR/Jacobs Media underwriting research shows that nearly two out of three listeners agree with the statement that public radio is selective about sponsoring companies.

The 2003 NPR/Jacobs Media study asked listeners to rate the appropriateness of different public radio underwriters. The Sierra Club and ACLU were among the organizations deemed appropriate by listeners. The NRA was not.

Many WDUQ listeners were outraged that Planned Parenthood's support was rejected. That outrage didn't exist in St. Louis several years ago when KWMU refused underwriting from the KKK.

Listeners don't want public radio to take money from organizations and businesses that they consider to be inconsistent their values and beliefs. That's one of the reasons audiences at live recordings of Wait Wait Don't Tell Me have been known to boo when they hear the Walmart sponsorship credit being read.

Planned Parenthood's President for Western Pennsylvania is quoted in the New York Times and Current as saying, "...we didn’t realize to be an underwriter that you had to agree with Catholic doctrine." She suggested that the integrity of the news on WDUQ was now in question.

The KKK, NRA, and the National Right to Life could just as easily say, "we didn't realize to be an underwriter you had to agree with the public radio audience's doctrine." Like Planned Parenthood, they could just as easily question the integrity of public radio's news based on being rejected as sponsors.

Those of us who work with the reporters, editors, and producers of public radio's national and local news know how hard they work to bring fairness and accuracy to every report. By making the selection of sponsors a litmus test for honest journalism, Planned Parenthood is attacking the work of those individuals and doing more damage to the credibility of their efforts than Duquesne University's initial action. Because right now that litmus test is coming up blue.

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