Row over ethical conflict prompts radio station manager to resign

After a combative online exchange with CPB Ombudsman Joel Kaplan over a perceived conflict of interest between his political aspirations and his role as president of an NPR-affiliated public station, Marshall Miles of WHDD-FM/AM in Sharon, Conn., temporarily resigned from his pubcasting job Oct. 15. Miles, who until last week ran the station that calls itself “Robin Hood Radio,” recently decided to run for a seat on the Region One Board of Education, which oversees a largely rural district in northwestern Connecticut. After local critics complained that Miles’s candidacy conflicted with his work as a pubcasting manager, Kaplan agreed with them in an online column published Oct. 10.

Ombud answers watchdog’s concerns about public radio’s America Abroad

The ombudsman for America Abroad, a monthly public radio show covering foreign policy and international affairs, has responded to criticism from the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting regarding a recent show about developments in energy technology. In a May 31 blog post, FAIR said that the April episode of America Abroad  “sounded like an infomercial” for fracking, the hydraulic fracturing process used in natural gas production. FAIR pointed out that the show was funded by the Qatar Foundation International, a philanthropy funded by the royal family of Qatar. Qatar is a leading exporter of natural gas — in 2011, it was the world’s top exporter, according to the International Gas Union. FAIR also took issue with the appearance on the show of Henry Jacoby, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor involved with a study about the future of natural gas. The MIT Energy Initiative, which produced the report, includes oil and gas companies as members, and the study’s advisory committee included representatives from natural-gas industry groups.

Outside consultant says WDET fundraising spots weren’t unethical

Pitch spots requesting donations for an audio preservation project at Detroit’s WDET did not violate fundraising ethics, according to an accredited fundraising consultant who reviewed the campaign at the station’s request. The spots, which simulated tape decay of recorded music in the station’s library to solicit donations for the preservation project, prompted an internal complaint that WDET had misled listeners about the state of its collection (Current, Sept. 10). WDET General Manager J. Mikel Ellcessor, who approved the spots, apologized to staff and to listeners who donated to the campaign, and pledged to have an independent consultant evaluate the matter. Rick Kress, a credentialed advanced certified fundraising executive retained by WDET, reviewed an audio sample from the spots and other materials generated by the fundraiser — including the letters of apology.

Hearing by ethics watchdog could sew up feud in Seattle

Members of a Seattle-based media-watchdog group weighed in March 31 [2012] on a yearlong dispute between an antiabortion group and KUOW, the city’s all-news pubradio outlet, bringing the disagreement to an end for the time being. A majority of panelists convened by the Washington News Council voted in agreement that KUOW had made errors in a story involving the Vitae Foundation, and that the mistakes merited on-air corrections or clarifications. KUOW had already corrected and clarified the story, though only on its website. But most members of the WNC panel agreed that KUOW had no responsibility to give the Vitae Foundation additional on-air coverage after the story aired. Vitae had asked KUOW for on-air reporting as reparation for the initial story’s flaws, and initially the news council had backed that request.

Simple Googling dug up what Daisey had hidden

Within a few hours of phoning the translator who refuted key details in a This American Life show about factories that manufacture Apple products in China, Marketplace correspondent Rob Schmitz was on a plane to meet her…

New NPR ethics code discourages outside contracts

NPR journalists must seek management approval to sign work contracts with other media outlets, and most such requests will not be granted, according to a comprehensive revision of the network’s ethics guidelines approved unanimously by the network’s board Feb. 24. The board reaffirmed the network’s desire to regulate moonlighting such as the ongoing appearances of former NPR news analyst Juan Williams on Fox News — a gig that led to his firing in 2010 and an extended hullaballoo exploited by Fox and Republican partisans. Publication of the NPR Ethics Handbook concluded a 15-month process that the Board initiated after Williams’s dismissal. The guidelines specify that a news employee must get written permission “for all outside freelance and journalistic work,” a continuation of NPR’s previous policies.

Jim Ascendio

No-chat zone ’twixt funders and reporters?

Radio news veteran Jim Asendio resigned as news director of Washington’s WAMU-FM last week after an internal dispute over a private fundraising event turned into a public clash over the editorial firewall protecting the station’s newsroom. Asendio objected when top managers required him and two reporters from his staff to participate in a “Meet the Producers” breakfast and panel discussion that the station hosted for major donors Feb. 22. The choice was stark, the news director said: “I could either not show up and be in trouble, or show up and violate my ethics, so I tendered my resignation.”

The showdown, first reported by Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple, put a spotlight on one of the touchiest subjects in cash-strapped newsrooms — firewalls designed to protect working journalists from undue influence by funders and to prevent appearances that such conflicts exist. Similar conflicts are playing out behind the scenes at public radio stations across the country, according to Iowa Public Radio’s Jonathan Ahl, who is president of Public Radio News Directors Inc.

“Some of our members have given us the indication that people aren’t necessarily crossing the firewall, but they’re walking up to it and peeking over it” too often, Ahl said.

Unvetted war story slips past producers

A commentary created through an experimental radio project of the New America Foundation turned a harsh spotlight on the editorial vetting process at Marketplace, which broadcast a first-person account Jan. 30 [2012] of a man who falsely claimed to be a heroic Army sniper. Whatever the editorial process at Marketplace missed, there were similar shortcomings at San Francisco’s KQED-FM, which also aired the piece, and at the big liberal foundation, whose media project was focused on inclusivity rather than excluding fakers. The two-minute piece by a man named Leo Webb, part of a commentary series titled “My Life Is True,” turned out to be largely untrue. As soon as it aired, the first-person commentary sounded like a load of bull to readers of This Ain’t Hell, a blog that critiques media coverage of the military and takes special glee in exposing phony war stories.  It took only some basic fact-checking and a sharply worded blog post to set off an online spanking for producers of Marketplace, American Public Media’s flagship drivetime broadcast, and KQED, one of pubcasting’s top news stations.