• Public media’s coverage of the conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip has some audience members questioning news outlets’ objectivity. Last week, PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler and NPR Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos published a total of three blog posts about coverage of the battle between the Israeli Defense Forces and Hamas, rounding up complaints from readers with diverging criticisms.
Getler focused on the PBS NewsHour’s coverage of the conflict in his two reports. In the first, he fielded complaints about the show’s selection of guests and its usage of the term “occupied.” The second column concerned Gwen Ifill’s interview with a UNICEF specialist regarding civilian casualties in Gaza, which Getler said prompted more mail than any segment since the conflict started. Schumacher-Matos took a broader view of NPR’s reporting on Gaza within Morning Edition, All Things Considered and newscasts, touching on subjects such as guest selection and the religious affiliations of the network’s on-the-ground reporters.
NPR has stepped back from plans to curtail its ombudsman’s duties after receiving criticism from journalists and leaders of its member stations. The blowback began with a blog post by New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen, who pointed out Monday that a job posting for NPR’s next ombudsman specified that the in-house watchdog should refrain from “commentary” and “judgment.” Edward Schumacher-Matos, NPR’s current ombudsman, will end his three-year term in September. Rosen saw the change in language as an effort to defang the ombudsman, which he argued would remove a valuable check on NPR’s reporting. Some station leaders noted Rosen’s post and shared his concerns.
An award-winning 2011 NPR investigative series about Native American children in South Dakota’s foster-care system was seriously flawed and should not have aired, according to an 80-page report written by NPR’s ombudsman.
CPB ombudsman Joel Kaplan has urged WAMU-FM in Washington, D.C., to release more information about a gathering of major donors and station journalists that prompted the Feb. 22 resignation of WAMU News Director Jim Asendio. The “Meet the Producers Breakfast” featured a panel discussion among WAMU reporters and producers for an audience of about 30 donors who had recently increased their annual contributions to at least $1,000. Asendio said he resigned because he believed the event had breached an ethical firewall insulating station journalists from funders. In Kaplan’s comments, posted March 2 on CPB.org, the ombudsman did not explicitly condemn the event but wrote that the issue “goes to the heart of the station’s ethics.”
“The public deserves more from WAMU,” Kaplan wrote.