In a commentary about voicing standards in broadcasting, journalist Gisele Regatao said that NPR declined to air her reporting because she speaks with a foreign accent.
When Regatao first pitched her idea to report on an exhibition by Brazilian artist Tarsila do Amaral, her editor Tom Cole warned her that NPR’s producers might not like her accent. Regatao is a journalism professor at Baruch College and former WNYC producer. She moved to the U.S. from Brazil 20 years ago.
She pursued the story anyway, but it was rejected for broadcast, “in part because of space and in part because of my accent,” she wrote in Columbia Journalism Review. Later, “several people” at NPR, including Edith Chapin, executive editor of NPR News, apologized and told Regatao her that NPR “does not have a policy regarding foreign accents for reporters, hosts, or sources, and that public radio’s mission is to include all voices and dialects,” according to her account in CJR.
Regatao had previously worked at WNYC in New York City in various roles, including executive producer for news.
Public radio has been criticized for being too rigid about its standards for voicing in its programs. In a 2015 Transom article on the “whiteness of public radio voices,” professor Chenjerai Kumanyika said that “there is what Paulo Freire called a ‘dominant syntax’ and flowing from that is a narrow range of public radio and podcast host voices and speech patterns that have become extremely common.” Women journalists working in public radio have also complained that they’re pressured to change their voices.
NPR spokesperson Isabel Lara confirmed that NPR does not have a policy regarding on-air talent who speak with foreign accents. “Anybody who listens to NPR will hear a wide variety of accents, [and] it is unfortunate Ms. Regatao had this experience,” she said.
“Our mission statement says that public radio must have ‘genuine diversity of regions, values, and cultural and ethnic minorities which comprise American society; it would speak with many voices and many dialects,’” Lara added. “Rejecting a piece due to an accent is a departure from those core values and is inconsistent with our journalistic practice. This issue has been addressed with the editor involved and should not happen again.”
Regatao said in her piece, “After decades of criticism, media companies — NPR included — are realizing that their newsrooms don’t match the communities they serve and they need to be more inclusive by promoting women and people of color to decision-making positions. But having reporters and hosts with a foreign accent on-air remains a subject that many national news organizations would prefer to avoid.”