Repairing the public's trust in WGBH

Soon after the mailing list controversy went national, the president of WGBH submitted this article to The Boston Globe, which published it July 17, 1999.

By Henry Becton

For almost 50 years, WGBH has built a legacy of public trust with audiences here in New England and across the United States. Nothing is more important to us than that trust -- and now, repairing the damage done to it by WGBH's own mistakes.

Like our fellow public broadcasters, and like many in the not-for-profit arena, we depend on the financial generosity of those who value our services. In our quest to expand that pool of supporters, we -- along with other nonprofit organizations -- exchange our donor lists as a cost-effective way of bringing in new contributors. Our pledge drives and mail appeals are important ways of expanding our donor base. But no strategy has proven more successful in surfacing prospective contributors than asking for the support of those whose philanthropy already has been demonstrated.

In 1994, WGBH put in place a donor list policy that prohibited us from sharing our donor names with political groups -- a voluntary policy that exceeded industry standards. This spring, to our dismay, we learned that some names of our valued contributors had, in fact, been shared with the Democratic National Committee, in clear violation of our policy.

As soon as we learned of this transgression, we checked our records of the last two years to be sure that it was a solitary action. We now know we did not check back far enough. And that led some press reports to assume we were misleading you, when in fact we were operating on incomplete information.

We owe it to everyone who cares about public broadcasting to be completely clear and open about this situation. That's why we've engaged independent, outside auditors for a full review of WGBH's practices and our policies and controls regarding donor lists. We await their report and will take whatever measures are necessary to move forward with a system and oversight structure equal to the high standards that are expected of us.

WGBH is deeply committed to the work that we do, serving our local community with thought-provoking, award-winning television and radio programs

All of us at WGBH are acutely aware that we are part of a longstanding tradition of excellence and service. Our mission of education, culture, and citizenship has always guided our actions, just as honesty and integrity are the very foundation of our management. These have been the benchmarks of our success, and they will be our compass as we move to set this situation right and restore the public's trust.

Can we be more diligent? Most assuredly. Will we be? You have my word on it.

We know that many share our pride and justly feel that they've helped WGBH serve this community, whether through their financial support or their participation as viewers and listeners. By redoubling our vigilance, we will ensure that their pride is restored.



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Related story: CPB bans list deals with political groups, July 1999.


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