Media watchdog aims to air out dispute between KUOW and antiabortion group

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A media-oversight nonprofit in Seattle will hold a hearing later this month to consider an antiabortion group’s allegation that KUOW-FM, the city’s all-news pubradio outlet, 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 the foundation’s billboard advertising campaign for a website,, that discusses choices available to women with unplanned pregnancies. The story began with a Planned Parenthood representative discussing the YourOptions website but did not include comment from anyone with Vitae. Deborah Stokes, Vitae’s c.o.o., objected that Walker did not contact the foundation for comment and that her story implied that does not present abortion as an option, when in fact it does.

In a reply, Walker said she regretted not contacting Vitae but stood by the story as accurate and balanced. Stokes continued to press her complaint against the station with News Director Guy Nelson. KUOW added a note to the online version of the story clarifying that lists abortion as an option, but Stokes, unsatisfied, filed a complaint with the Washington News Council. The nonprofit 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. (WNC has provided a PDF compiling the correspondence among Vitae, WNC and KUOW.)

The WNC board unanimously agreed that the complaint raised “serious questions of journalistic performance or ethics” but took no position on the merit of the complaint. WNC encouraged Vitae and KUOW to seek resolution. Nelson interviewed Stokes by phone and posted a transcript of the interview on KUOW’s website. “However, the station did not acknowledge that the original story was incomplete and misleading, as they had conceded privately,” WNC said in a press release. “Nor did they do an on-air story, which was part of the proposed compromise.”

KUOW has considered doing a follow-up story and continues to, Nelson told Current, which is in accordance with WNC’s recommendation. “We have met all of the recommendations from the news council,” he said, citing the clarifications posted on the station’s website. “It’s an ongoing situation, and we will certainly do more coverage of this issue when it becomes newsworthy.”

WNC said “little progress” has been made since September, when KUOW posted the interview transcript, and it scheduled a hearing at the request of Vitae. The “open discussion of journalistic standards,” in WNC’s words, will be held at the University of Washington March 31 unless KUOW and Vitae resolve the matter before then.

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