CPB ombudsman criticizes redactions in IG audit of WQED

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Joel Kaplan, ombudsman for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, writes in a column Wednesday (Feb. 8) that information redacted from a recent CPB Inspector General’s report on Pittsburgh’s WQED, “is inconsistent with CPB’s pledge of transparency.”

Kenneth Konz, the inspector general, conducted an audit of WQED Multimedia, released in December 2011, that determined that because WQED did not comply with certain CPB guidelines for reporting nonfederal financial support, CPB made improper Community Service Grants to the station in excess of $798,000.

“If you read the audit report,” Kaplan writes, “you will find that it is filled with redactions about specific monetary expenditures at the heart of the audit report.” Kaplan said a reporter contacted him asking why the redactions were allowed, especially because CPB noted in its latest business plan that it has “engaged in a continuous process of improving its own transparency.”

The redacted figures concerned WQED’s sale several years ago of Pittsburgh Magazine, a for-profit publication. George Hazimanolis, WQED spokesman, told Kaplan that the CPB inspector general’s office “offered WQED the opportunity to redact anything that was proprietary and harmful to WQED’s business, which we understood to be normal procedure. WQED responded very broadly to that offer.” Konz told Kaplan that the removal of proprietary information from reports is mandated by federal and state laws.

“I continue to believe that it was wrong for most of this information to be redacted and it is inconsistent with CPB’s pledge of transparency,” Kaplan writes. “It becomes even more problematic when the names of donors are redacted since it does not allow the public to make an independent determination about whether any undue or improper influence is being used in determining what types of materials are run over the public broadcasting airwaves.”

“Given that the Community Service Grants are provided to public broadcasting stations by CPB,” he concludes, “I am hopeful that the CPB Board of Directors will in the future make such funding contingent on a recipient station’s willingness to be transparent in all of its operations.”