Media council will assess KUOW/antiabortion dispute

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A media-ethics forum in Seattle will hold a hearing later this month to consider an antiabortion group’s charge that all-news KUOW-FM aired an inaccurate report about the group last year and fell short of correcting its missteps.

The complaint by the Vitae Foundation centers on an April 2011 story by reporter Meghan Walker about Vitae’s billboard campaign publicizing, a website that discusses what women can do about unplanned pregnancies. The story began with remarks by a Planned Parenthood rep but, as Vitae official Deborah Stokes objected, the reporter didn’t contact Vitae for comment.

Walker said she regretted not contacting Vitae but stood by the story as accurate and balanced. Stokes pressed her complaint with News Director Guy Nelson.

Stokes said the story implied incorrectly that the website omits abortion as an option. In response, KUOW posted a note online clarifying that does list abortion as an option. Stokes was not satisfied; she filed a complaint with the Washington News Council, a nonprofit that promotes accuracy, fairness and accountability among news outlets in Washington state. “The story was in essence a Planned Parenthood editorial about Vitae’s message,” Vitae said in its June 2011 complaint.

The news council board took no position on the merit of the complaint, but later proposed a compromise, suggesting that the station run a story on air.

Nelson interviewed Stokes by phone and posted a transcript on KUOW’s website in September. “However, the station did not acknowledge that the original story was incomplete and misleading, as they had conceded privately,” the news council said in a press release. “Nor did they do an on-air story, which was part of the proposed compromise.” KUOW is considering doing a follow-up story, Nelson told Current.

The news council said “little progress” has been made since September, when KUOW posted the interview transcript, and it scheduled an “open discussion of journalistic standards” March 31 at the University of Washington.

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