Gov’t officials critical of nonprofit Friends units

Nonprofit fundraising arms of the state-owned network in West Virginia and the school-board-operated stations in Miami are under fire as public officials scrutinize longstanding financial relationships that underpin their operations. West Virginia Public Broadcasting and Miami’s WLRN-FM/TV, like many other public radio and TV operations owned by state and local governments, rely on sister nonprofits, often called Friends groups, to raise as much as 40 percent of their annual budgets. These private 501(c)(3) nonprofits around the country differ in many details but typically have separate governing boards and sometimes their own staffs.  

A major reason for their existence is also cause for the complaints: They give pubcasters more flexibility and speed in purchasing and contracting than government procedures usually permit and they can pay for programming or other mission-related activities that the stations couldn’t otherwise afford. Friends of WLRN, for example, was able to contribute funding to continue the station’s editorial partnership with the Miami Herald when the newspaper’s new owners were cutting costs in 2008, according to Janet Altman, chair of the friends group.

Rhode Island declares independence (again)

The four-year struggle to establish WRNI in Providence, R.I., as an independent public radio service for the state crossed a long-awaited threshold last month, when its aspiring licensee announced the station’s independence from Boston’s WBUR, the NPR News powerhouse that partnered with local pubradio supporters to establish WRNI a decade ago. Rhode Island Public Radio, the station’s licensee-to-be, began operating WRNI-AM Sept. 1 under a management contract with Boston University’s WBUR Group. The agreement anticipates state approval of the $2 million sale under loan terms covered by WBUR and its university licensee. “We don’t anticipate difficulty in getting a favorable ruling,” said RIPR Chairman Jim Marsh.

Can government employees be journalists?

Nebraska ETV canceled a senatorial debate broadcast in August [1996], and Iowa PTV was taken to court last month as the ripple effects of a federal circuit court decision involving Arkansas ETV spread throughout the Midwest’s Eighth Circuit. As it did in 1994, the circuit court had ruled on Aug. 21, [1996] that the Arkansas network had no right to exclude independent congressional candidate Ralph P. Forbes from a Republican-Democrat debate that it was sponsoring and broadcasting in 1992. Richard D. Marks, attorney for the Arkansas, Iowa and Nebraska networks, called the decision “a grave threat to public broadcasting.” In the parallel case in Iowa, pubcasters were elated with two rulings last week: first, a U.S. District Court said Oct.