Censorship at WUNC

IPAS is a locally-based international women's health and reproductive rights organization. The following message came today:

IPAS has been sponsoring WUNC and we have a short announcement that is read on-air. Recently, WUNC decided that the phrase 'reproductive rights' which we use in our announcement was in violation of FCC regulations because it advocates for a particular position that is not universally endorsed. They admit that this is a conservative interpretation of the regulations, but nonetheless they will not let Ipas use this phrase in its on-air announcement.

I have been arguing with them to make the case that reproductive rights is not a euphemism for abortion and that, indeed, the whole point of rights is that they are universally held, e.g. the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I doubt that my arguments will be successful.

I know that many of you are supporters of WUNC and I think some questions from listeners on this policy might help open their eyes to this issue.

I hope folks will help hold WUNC's feet to the fire on this. Their gun-shy mentality is one step down a slippery slope. I just returned from a road trip through rural PA where there was no public radio on the dial. Instead there were several Christian stations at the low end of FM and at least three stations carrying Rush. None of them seemed worried about airing non-universally endorsed ideas.

If WUNC is going to have corporate underwriting (i.e. advertising) it should let the sponsors accurately describe their activities.

issue: 

Total votes: 301

Comments

I'm afraid that the perceived conservative 'mandate' of this week's election is going to bring about a flurry of these kinds of fear-driven decisions.

Wow. I am stunned at this decision. Sadly this kind of ignorant and fearful decision-making is hapenning across the country. But are we not open-minded, educated citizens here in the Triangle? We should be able to do much better!

Reading this makes me feel disgusted with WUNC. If I hadn't already withdrawn my financial support due to their overly-conservative talk-based programming 10 years ago (they've gotten a little better since), I would do it now.

It's really disappointing that this station that has the most progressive public radio audience in the South can't be more of a visionary, or at least not be so damn reactionary.

I wonder if some people will choose to donate to WCOM 103.5 or WNCU 90.7 instead.

I used to work with a few stations in western NC; I was underwriting on behalf of my company. WCQS in Asheville used to quibble with me over all sorts of words and phrases (we had a product that was guaranteed, and they wouldn't say that; we also referred to ourselves as the "original" of something, which they said was also too risky). Public radio stations can't just repeat business slogans--that's why it's underwriting, not advertising (a thin but important line). WNCW, out of Spindale, got hit hard by the FCC, who does seem to go after, if not target, public radio; WNCW's violations seemed quite minor to me (in my vastly oversimplified explanation), but it almost shut them down.

The WUNC decision, while it sucks, doesn't strike me as reactionary, but a reasonable assesment of what the FCC is doing these days--which is the bigger issue here. While I'm sure WUNC wants to encourage underwriting, they have to do everything they can to protect their licensing, or all the corporate underwriting in the world wouldn't make a difference. I'm not saying I like the decision, but my guess is that they probably had some sound reasons for it. A business has to protect its ability to do business.

That's a good explanation of the business side, Joan. If WUNC wants to make that decision, I understand the reasons - but I still don't like it. It has an awful chilling effect on speech all over the state just to create an atmosphere where you have to use code words to describe normal, legal, POSITIVE things, like reproductive health. I certainly won't be giving any money to support this station as long as this policy stands.

And I certainly hope Ipas isn't continuing to support an institution that thinks women's health is too controversial for them.

Good idea, Mark. (In fact I have donated to both of those stations in the past.)

If the threat of an FCC crack down is so great that they have to be this nervous, then I wonder if there is a procedure for asking the FCC for an advanced ruling on the phrase "reproductive rights."

If WUNC asked them for a ruling, then the FCC would be the bad guy here (or not - depending on the ruling). As it is, WUNC is saying that they don't care to stand up against the possibility of FCC sanctions - and on a fundamental rhetorical issue for Progressives (George Lakoff would be spinning in his grave if he were dead).

The whole thing makes WUNC look weak-kneed to me.

The constitution recognizes the special role played by the press in our society. If WUNC will not stand up and fight for what is guaranteed to them through the constitution, they, like so many other media outlets, are failing we, the people. I have supported, quite generously, public radio for over 20 years. This will be my first year to not do so.

Joan, in asnwer to your question "where else can you get a quality international perspective?" The answer is, the internet. I listen to live streams of WNYC in New York and WAMU in DC at least a few times a week. I even listen to WUNC ans WNCU online sometimes because it's hard to tune them in.

Because I have a choice in what public radio I listen to, I'd like WUNC to offer something the other stations can't: local information and a local perspective. Which brings me back to my first point. In a community with politics like ours, can't we do better?

Any TV or radio station broadcasting on the public airwaves has certain rules and regulations (consider the uproar over Sinclair Broadcasting). For public radio, there are very strict rules regarding those underwriting comments. This is not necessarily a constitutional issue--they don't have the same rights as any citizen.

Mark, why you do assume they didn't check with the FCC? Or perhaps the FCC recently ruled against another public radio station for similar remarks. Perhaps they agonized over this. Perhaps it's all been miscommunicated. Perhaps they've had other recent FCC violations and are treading carefully. I'm not sure how we can make an informed judgment only hearing one side of this. I do know that underwriting public radio means working with them to carefully tweak what your message says.

Terri, are you saying that you are withdrawing support for this one reason?

Having recently lived in an area with no quality local media, I am thrilled to be someplace where quality public radio is broadcasting 24 hours, with local news. And let's remember that WUNC is the station bringing NC listeners the BBC every day--where else can you get a quality international perspective?

I don't know the local gossip on WUNC, but I do know that I really appreciate their strong programming and talk format. And I would be reluctant automatically to assume they are weak-kneed.

We are extremely lucky here in the triangle to have serious FM radio choices. Competition for radio listeners is fierce. If we just focus on NPR affiliates, there is WNCU 90.7, WSHA 88.9, and WUNC 91.5!

I'm just going to remove WUNC from the station presets on my car radio. One less commuter listening. (Probably the largest segment of listeners for radio is in a car from 7-9am and 5-7pm.)

Here are some other reasons why we shouldn't listen to NPR/WUNC:

1) NPR advertises Wal-Mart nationally

2) KCRW-FM in LA fired Sandra Sing Loh for saying FUCK (because an editor forgot to remove it)

3) Much of the news show content is so "Balanced" as to have no edge and is boring as hell!

4) What's up with WUNC not carrying African American radio shows?!? (Thank goodness WNCU has Tavis Smiley)

Ah well... no big deal... Internet radio and my iPod can feed me what I want to hear and when.

(The reality of our local NPR station caving in to Michael Powell makes me very sad. There are a lot of excellent people employed and making beautiful audio art at NPR and PRI!)

Joan, My decision to withdraw support was based on more than IPAS, but the IPAS decision was the kicker. Over the past 10 years I've lived in two communities that had really great NPR stations. Both stations covered local news as well as nationally syndicated programming. Both stations had a variety of programming, from Parents Journal, arts programming, history, in addition to the political programming now favored by WUNC. My biggest concern with WUNC is the lack of local coverage. I appreciate their interest in expanding out to more rural communities, but they need to do so and still provide local reporting. South Carolina has been quite successful in centralizing some programming, but also supporting community-based coverage.

Terri, thanks for your thoughtful explanation. I was in such a media vacuum before that it's hard for me to view WUNC so critically--but I also think it's easy to forget the good things they offer.

I will continue to support my local NPR affiliate, though, because in doing so I support some shows that I truly love, like This American Life (my money is worth Ira Glass bringing David Sedaris to the world!), Prarie Home Companion (Garrison Keillor doesn't seem to shy away from telling us what he thinks about politics), and Car Talk (these guys are great environmentalists).

I do appreciate the local coverage WUNC brings. While I appreciate your desire to see them expand their local news before expanding their broadcast area, I have to say that bringing public radio to underserved rural areas seems like an excellent service to me, especially as someone who used to live in an underserved rural area.

I guess I also trust them, because so far I haven't really seen any reason not to--I think this evidence is anecdotal, and I'd really like to hear the WUNC perspective on this first.

Joan,

I agree that we should hear WUNC's perspective on this. Making this decision was incredibly difficult for me. I think this will be the first time in 20 years I haven't supported my local NPR affiliate (mostly WUNC). My concerns over lack of local programming are not reserved for WUNC--I just have higher expectations for them than for other media outlets. When our county commissioners, town councils or BOEs meet, I expect to see/hear complete reporting on what occurred in those meetings. Instead we here in Orange Co get totally filtered, in any, reporting. This is a very educated community. IMHO, we should be holding our media to higher standards than what passes for journalism elsewhere. We need local journalism--blogs are great but not sufficient.

I would not consider the censorship of IPAS to be anecdotal. The message I posted at the top came directly from IPAS' appeal for support.

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting's latest analysis of NPR's "balance" can be found at http://www.fair.org/extra/0405/npr-study.html. There are some alarming statistics therein including the fact that only 15% of NPR's designated experts are women.

More on NPR from FAIR can be found at: http://www.fair.org/media-outlets/npr.html

From : Mark Chilton
Sent : Tuesday, November 9, 2004 8:34 AM
To : jsrose@wunc.org, pcrowley@wunc.org, rlevin@wunc.org, ryeager@wunc.org, dwright@wunc.org, jfrancioni@wunc.org, gboosey@wunc.org
Subject : IPAS underwriting decision

Dear WUNC staff,

Could you please clarify second hand information that WUNC recently decided to prohibit IPAS from using the phrase "Reproductive Rights" in underwriting tag lines on WUNC?

Who made that decision?

Why?

The phrase Reproductive Rights refers to a broad philosophical view that the development of education, democracy, and global sustainability depends on a woman's right to family planning - access to pregnancy prevention, the right to decide whether to concieve a child and indeed the right to the security and integrity of one's own body is not some kind of controversial political agenda.

-Mark Chilton

In 1979, the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). 179 nations are signators including the U.S.

According to the UN, http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/index.html, among various other provisions, CEDAW "affirms the reproductive rights of women."

Twenty-five years later, the phrase "reproductive rights" is hardly controversial.

In the US, both left and right promote their version of reproductive rights. For the left, it is largely in terms of women's control of their bodies (including abortion) and access to birth control measures. For the right, it is usually in terms of "abstinence" education implying the right of women (and men) to decline to be sexually active before marriage and thereby controlling their reproduction.

Thus, there may be controversy over which reproductive rights women may claim but there is virtually none around the question of whether they have rights along those lines.

In this context it is hard to see WUNC's action other than as censorship.

I don't know that it is censorship, but it seems much more overtly political to refuse to broadcast the phrase "Reprodcutive Rights" than it is to broadcast it.

And I think I read in Ms. Siefert Rose's post that WUNC did make this decision - ie they were not instructed by the FCC.

If there is doubt about the phrase, why not ask the FCC for its opinion?

I am WUNC's general manager. I have received several e-mails on this topic, including from some individuals who have posted comments to this site. Thank you for the opportunity to clarify our position on on-air acknowledgements.

Please note that these policies do not in any way apply to our editorial content.

I am attaching WUNC's policy on corporate underwriting announcements. This statement, plus the copy guidelines, which we share with businesses and organizations wishing to receive on-air acknowledgement for making a donation to WUNC, are now posted on our website, www.wunc.org.

WUNC continues to broadcast announcements acknowledging IPAS.

Please contact me at WUNC at 966-5454 if you would like additional information.

Joan Siefert Rose
General Manager

WUNC's Position on Corporate Underwriting Announcements

This statement is intended to response to recent questions concerning WUNC-FM's donor acknowledgement policies.

As do all non-commercial broadcast stations that are dependent on public financial support, WUNC-FM routinely acknowledges businesses and organization that contribute to its business support fund. However, as a federally regulated entity, all announcements must conform to federal law and regulations issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) concerning non-commercial broadcasters.

Specifically, Section 399B of the federal Communications Act prohibits non-commercial broadcasters from airing any message or other programming material which is broadcast or otherwise transmitted in exchange for any remuneration (e.g., donor acknowledgements) and which is intended, among other things, to express the views of any person with respect to any matter of public importance of interest.

The law covers organizations that, as their primary business, seek to influence matters of public concern, either through public outreach on a matter or through affecting the legislative process. While there is no prohibition in these rules against sponsorship by advocacy groups, WUNC is prohibited by law from accepting an underwriting announcement from such a group or any other group that is intended to express an opinion on matters of public importance or otherwise advocate positions on controversial public matters.

This prohibition, unfortunately, is more an art than a science. Clearly, opinions can and do differ on whether a particular announcement is intended to advocate on controversial issues. Nonetheless, WUNC must exercise its good faith discretion and judgment in this area. To this end, WUNC periodically reviews and updates underwriting messages and works with its donors in shaping appropriate acknowledgements for their contributions. In cases where a particular announcement raises questions under the applicable federal donor acknowledgement requirements, WUNC will work with the business or organization to find language that is acceptable and meets all federal requirements.

WUNC takes its obligation to comply with federal law concerning donor acknowledgements very seriously and attempts to err on the side of caution in the event questions are raised concerning a particular announcement. As always, WUNC is grateful for the continued support of individuals, businesses and other entities of its public programming.

Mark,
I suspect that if Community Realty underwrote WUNC, they would let you say "America's first nonprofit realty." If I underwrote, they would let me say "providing database solutions for nonprofits." Their decision to not allow IPAS to use the common description of its mission must be considered censorship.

Well, that's a good point.

I guess I am a little defensive about the term censorship, sometimes, because people (such as some posters on this thread) seem to think that, for example, OrangePolitics.org has some obligation to promulgate (or even allow) their point of view. This blog belongs to Ruby Sinreich and we are all here at her mercy. Ruby's mercy turns out to be fairly tolerant of some viewpoints that are sharply divergent from her own, but she hates: 1) off topic posts, 2) non-local issues, and 3) trolls of all descriptions. I don't think her excerise of editorial discretion on her own website is censorship.

On the other hand, WUNC is not an entirely private entity and it definitely avails itself of our airwaves (which it does not own). Therefore, WUNC has obligations that OP.org does not. Even so, I think that the Chapel Hill News could choose to decline certain kinds of advertisements if it wanted to, right? And I am not sure that it would be censorship if they did.

Maybe I just need a definition of censorship. Calling Duncan . . . come in Duncan . . .

Thanks to Joan Rose for posting this so quickly, especially during a busy pledge drive.

Mark, I don't think it's as simple as "asking" the FCC. The hearings are more like trials, with various judges and opinions. That'd be like a school system asking the court for a decision on whether or not they can have a prayer at a certain kind of event--it doesn't happen that way. I think someone has to complain first (think Janet Jackson, Howard Stern, etc). So I'm not sure it's entirely fair to suggest they ask.

I looked up "censor" and "censorship" in the Oxford English Dictionary, and I got the sense that censoring is when it's done by the government or an official body of some kind. I would argue that the use here is incorrect.

Folks also seem to be missing the point that IPAS, at least according to the Chapel Hill News today, isn't upset with WUNC per se, but concerned about the climate that would cause WUNC to make this decision:

--Kumar said her concern was not with WUNC's decision per se, but with the political climate that led to it.

"My complaint is not with WUNC," she said. "They have an obligation to meet FCC guidelines, and they're being cautious in making sure they do that. What concerns me is the chilling effect of the world we're living in, which makes everybody super cautious about what they say. The issue of reproductive rights, like many others, has been cast as an "either you're with us or you're against use" issue, and so much of the language is assumed to be code for something else."--

Look, I think this sucks too, but I think it's way too easy to blame WUNC. They didn't create the environment. Progressives don't need to be beating up on each other. We don't need to pit WUNC against IPAS, especially when the two don't seem to be fighting each other. If folks are pissed at the FCC, go complain about what happened with Howard Stern, et al. It's an increasingly conservative environment, and that's the problem.

Joan,

I have suggested there needs to be much more monitoring and involvement in FCC decision making in other threads so I agree with that point of your post. The problem as I see it is that WUNC gave in to the "increasingly conservative environment" before they were required to. Don't progressives have an obligation to stand up against interpretations of the law that take away or infringe upon freedom of speech? If our media won't fight for the freedom of speech (a constitutionally defined role for the press), then what confidence do citizens have of hearing/reading/seeing anything other than government-sponsored messages?

Terri, a fair question. But I guess if I wanted WUNC to take some risks, it wouldn't necessarily be on behalf of an underwriter, no matter who that underwriter is. I'd rather see bold coverage of local and state politics, for example, then have them spend more time and effort on a function that exists only to pay the bills.

I had so many versions of copy rejected by WCQS (in Asheville)--all very politically neutral, but expressing a claim about my company--that it's hard for me to get fired up about this. These copy points get edited ALL the time.

Dan, to address your point specifically--if Mark submitted copy that said "America's first such-and-such," and there was anyone else who claimed to be the first such-and-such, they might not allow it (this is what happened to me with my company). If Mark submitted copy that said, "America's best non-profit," or "Carrboro's best real estate agency," then they wouldn't allow it.

Again, I am uncomfortable with all of this, but I can't see it as censorship. I also think this issue has been taken wildly out of context and folks are making grandiose judgments without a real good understanding of how this process works. Most folks here seem quite unwilling to give WUNC the benefit of the doubt or even consider their perspective on this. I'm befuddled.

Joan, maybe it's because they took a policy that was working fine and had no complaints and changed it in a way that implies that the term "reproductive rights" is a matter of opinion. It is not. It's simply a factual description. It's what IPAS does. What if Equality NC wanted to underwrite? Assuming WUNC had the guts to accept their support (which I doubt at this point), would they be able to say they are working for "gay rights?" While the issue might be controversial, the statement is one of fact, not subjective opinion.

If this interpretation was consistent with an existing underwriting policy of WUNC it might be more acceptable (to some). But instead this was a change. A reversal of an existing situation, about which there had apparently been no complaints. Nothing in Ms. Seifert Rose's description mentions any change in the policy, so why the change in application of it?

All that said, I'm not sure if I would use the word "censorship" to describe this. But I would call it unprincipled, cowardly, and very disturbing, epsecially from a news organization that so many North Carolinians count on to hear the truth.

Yikes, Ruby, I don't think I want you mad at me! WUNC said it was a "periodic review," which indicates to me that this is a regular function. Perhaps several messages were changed at the same time.

Again, we're not talking about their news coverage, which is a completely separate department, but about advertising. All sorts of broadcasters place all sorts of limits on what they'll advertise. Anyway, I'm not likely to change my mind on this because of my experience working with other public radio stations--unless there was additional information. IPAS isn't mad at WUNC--so why should everyone else be?

Joan P., you see just what I mean in questioning whether 'censorship' is the right term.

I hear you on the question of whether it is really possible to ask the FCC, but Joan Siefert Rose has not really explained anything about the ask-the-FCC angle, so I don't know about that.

Another piece of missing information is repurcussions. Let's say that the FCC finds that the term "reproductive rights" does not "conform to federal law and regulations issued" (Rose). Does the FCC: take away WUNC's license? fine them? ask them to change the announcement?

Also, the question was rised as to "progressives beating up on each other" (presuming that WUNC is in some measure progressive). That question must be turned around to ask: why would a progressive organization (WUNC) abandon progressive principles in a manner that upsets its presumed allies? Wouldn't it be better for WUNC to allow the phrase and, if the FCC objecs, have us all there to rally around them for doing the right thing?

To censor means "suppress or remove unacceptable parts of (a book, film, etc.)" or "To examine and expurgate". No government entity is required. In fact, it is arguable that, historically, censorship has been primarily the province of religious institutions. Lately it is more prominently the work of large corporations (see, for example, www.fair.org).

Finally, we ought not fall into the trap of letting semantics define the issue. If you agree that WUNC's action is wrong, it doesn't matter too much whether or not you call it censorship. Ruby's several suggested phrases (above) work very nicely as well.

"WUNC's Position on Corporate Underwriting Announcements" appears to be designed to navigate the political climate of the day. Thus deflecting any hardship put upon the organization. Because, "This prohibition, unfortunately, is more an art than a science." the determination of what is approved language and what is not ultimately falls upon appointed heads of regulator groups, such as the FCC, and not on the people who own the airwaves. (as Mark pointed out) This process is *not* democratic.

Is this confusing vagueness engineered into law and regulations?

On his blog today, Paul Jones notes yet another example of WUNC putting money over morals.

Not On Our Air:

This morning the NPR show Morning Edition aired a show about the 1970 racially motivated murder in Oxford, NC documented in Tim Tyson's book, Blood Done Sign My Name. The show didn't run in NC's largest and broadest NPR market, our own WUNC. Instead, WUNC took a fundraising break during the one segment that most directly reported on the history and life of North Carolina and in particular the listeners in Oxford.

WUNC does need to raise money, but missing this story is unexcusable...

I'm confused. I heard this report on WUNC this morning while driving to work (right around 8 am). It was heartbreaking. In fact, I sent an email to Juan Williams thanking him for his excellent and sensitive reporting of this sad piece of our state history.

Ooops. My bad! Paul has posted an update:

UPDATE: WUNC did air the story this morning at 7:45. I understand they got a few phone calls and some email which brought the omission to their attention.

Sorry for the confusion.

Paul Jones has several updates correcting and putting more detail into what happened with the unaired show.
http://ibiblio.org/pjones/wordpress/index.php?p=103

And I just got more clarity from Sally Greene's blog. They did air the show, AFTER receiving numerous complaints from listeners.

Still think it's not worth asking them to change policies you don't like?

Dates with quoted blog entries help ;->
I wrote "Not on our air" yesterday after the Oxford piece ran nationally, but not locally. Part of my goal was to point to the piece in the NPR archive so those who would like to have heard it could here it timeshifted.
I also wrote folks at WUNC saying that I was disappointed that they hadn't run the story in this most important market (for that particular story). WUNC covers Oxford and there was Juan Williams walking (on tape) around their town talking to their neighbors etc.
The folks at WUNC made things good by running the story this morning and with good introductions. On my blog there are links etc in case you missed the show.
Pledge time is a tough time to do news I'm sure and I'm delighted that the story ran and that people in Oxford could hear it.

This was just posted to one of my media ecology listservs: "Young Broadcasting, of which WTEN (an ABC affiliate) Channel 10 in Albany, NY is part of, is refusing to broadcast 'Saving Private Ryan' tonight. Based on news reports, they are afraid of FCC rules about airing such a film early in
the evening." WUNC is not alone in their fear of the FCC.
http://www.stopfcc.com/

Dave Hart wrote an article about this issue yesterday. http://www.newsobserver.com/news/orange/story/1818481p-8126474c.html I bet our discussion of this had something to do with the fact that this made the paper. I feel good about helping to shine a spotlight on this decision which has a tangible impact on our community.

However, Dave's article doesn't address the issue that WUNC previously allowed the term "reproductive rights" and actively chose to change their position on it. I have yet to hear any explaination of the reversal. Have FCC rules changed? Was the original decision to use the term an error? Is WUNC afraid Michael Powell is going to attack them (unlikely in a red state, he's got bigger fishto fry)? What?

TV Stations Cancel'Saving Private Ryan
http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/M/MOVIE_CANCELED?SITE=OHCIN&SECTION...

part:
"We're just coming off an election where moral issues were cited as a reason by people voting one way or another and, in my opinion, the commissioners are fearful of the new Congress," Cole said.

Ruby, my understanding is that a complaint to the FCC is what initiates an investigation--it has nothing to do with how big or small the station in question is. A few years ago, a few complaints to the FCC about WNCW, a great alternative/public station in western NC, specifically in regards to underwriting and advertising, nearly led to its being shut down because of all the hassle and expense.

I found an article in the Washington Post about their stepped up fines and investigations. Here are a few snippets (this in regards to recent complaints about indecency, specifically, a ruling about a show on Fox):

"It is the agency's most recent ruling in its stepped-up effort to police radio and television. Complaints to the FCC are at an all-time high as viewers and lawmakers object to the increasing raunchiness of over-the-air radio and television, and broadcasters compete to keep pace with edgier cable programming....

Since October 2003, the FCC has proposed $3.8 million in fines against radio and television broadcasters for violations of the agency's indecency rules....

For all of 2002, the FCC proposed only $99,400 in indecency fines; in 2001, $91,000. Before that, the largest indecency settlement was a $1.7 million deal in 1995 to settle indecency charges prompted by Stern. "
--
Granted, these are indecency issues, but it does indicate a push by the FCC to go after broadcasters.

I took a look at the FCC website info about public radio(http://www.fcc.gov/mb/audio/nature.html) and it appears that all recent findings against public radio stations have had to do with underwriting copy. And they info on what the copy should include is pretty vague.

Whoa. This story has been picked up by salon.com:
http://www.salon.com/politics/war_room/index.html
(you can get view the content for free if you watch a quick ad).

Nothing new here--but it's interesting that they picked this up.

So that you will not have to watch an Audi advertisement, here is the entire salon.com story:

The word "rights"-- too controversial for the FCC?

We live in a time when a public radio station thinks the phrase "reproductive rights" will provoke the ire of the FCC: "WUNC-FM recently informed Ipas, a Chapel Hill-based international women's rights and health organization, that the phrase 'reproductive rights' in the group's on-air announcement could be interpreted as advocating a particular political position. The station required Ipas to use 'reproductive health' instead."

"... What concerns me is the chilling effect of the world we're living in, which makes everybody super-cautious about what they say," said [Anu Kumar, executive vice president of Ipas.] "The issue of reproductive rights, like many others, has been cast as an 'either you're with us or you're against us' issue, and so much of the language is assumed to be code for something else."

-- Geraldine Sealey

[13:32 PST, Nov. 12, 2004]

If you want to add your name to the more than 460 names on Ipas' open letter to WUNC, follow the link on this page.

The herald reported yesterday that Ipas has decided to withdraw it's underwriting from WUNC. http://www.herald-sun.com/orange/10-546358.html

It's unfortunate that they couldn't reach a compromise, but I'm glad Ipas has made it clear that this type of self-censorship in lieu of government censorship is not acceptable.

More national coverage....
"Coming in the wake of the cut-off of funds to HIV/AIDS prevention organization that discuss men who have sex with men and the investigation by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of the National Association for the Advanced of Colored People (NAACP), the action by the Chapel Hill-based WUNC radio station is being cited as evidence of a growing chilling effect on free expression."
http://www.commondreams.org/headlines04/1122-02.htm

Once again: Ipas continues to invite signatures to its open letter to WUNC even after it decided to pull its funding. The total is now up over 700. So, just 'cause this particular battle is over, don't think you can't be heard.

I can't see any way for WUNC to re-instate this right now... with all the coverage it's gotten, all it'd take is one mean-spirited public-radio-hater to complain to the FCC about the term "rights," which would set off an investigation, which could potentially risk WUNC's ability to stay on the air.

People seem to be treating WUNC's decision as the result of a corporate policy, as opposed to an interpretation of a government regulation. When Wal-Mart doesn't promote women, or doesn't offer health care to its staff--that's a corporate policy that can be influenced by bad PR and hearing from its customers.

But government regulations are different. I have worked in an industry that was heavily regulated by the government, in our, case the US Forest Service. There were certain rules and regulations we had to follow in order to keep our permit. Sometimes we would have prefered not to follow the rules--and our customers would sometimes be absolutely furious with us because we insisted on following those rules. But, first and foremost, we had to maintain our ability to do business.

I can see folks disagreeing with WUNC's interpretation, but I also think they know the regulations a whole lot more than the rest of us have, and it's hard for me to see why they would change their mind once they made that interpretation. This is not a customer service issue--this is not a wrong order at the drive-through.

I read that contributions to IPAS have gone up with all this PR, so, at least in a very short-sighted way, it has been good for them. But I'll continue to support WUNC--and I still think it's very sad to see two good groups duking it out in the papers.

Regulated speech is censorship. Regulating your own speech could be polite, tactful, prudent or cowardly, depending on the situtation. Regulating the mention of one kind of right over others because of a potential backlash from the anti-Scopes crowd deserves all the disdain (and more) currently heaped on WUNC.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Seems clear cut, but, obviously, in these days of Constitutional slash-n-burn (to use a forest 'management' term), one could understand why a commercial organization (CBS) would wilt under duress but an organization like WUNC, chartered as a civic-minded public service, well, I expect them to show a little more backbone. If they don't stand for and promote free discourse, especially on fundamental rights, who then?

Will, my opinion is not based on ignorance of constitutional rights. The public airwaves are regulated by the government--you know this obviously--but the rules are different for non-commercial radio; in this case, what they are regulating isn't news content, but underwriting. If the underwriting copy sounds too much like advertising or advocacy, then the station can lose it's non-commercial status. This isn't a simple free speech or free press issue. The rules are different for CBS, commercial radio, etc. And those folks reject advertisements all the time (like from Trojan Condoms) because they don't meet their broadcast standards.

I encourage you to educate yourself on this issue by visiting the FCC website which lists the various regulations they have to follow. Any public radio station must follow these rules or they won't be allowed to broadcast as a non-commercial station.

http://www.fcc.gov/mb/audio/

Folks here seem to be forgetting that what they are suggesting is that an advertiser's right to describe itself should take precedent over the broadcaster's right. What if Wal-Mart was complaining about their copy? Would you still be attacking WUNC?

I'm certainly not an expert on this, but I worked enough (as an underwriter) with public radio to have an understanding of the delicate balance between making underwriters happy and following FCC guidelines. I would love to hear from folks who understand these guidelines but perhaps have a different opinion on this. The folks objecting to WUNC's decision seem not to understand how non-commercial broadcasting works.

Frank Rich has a column where he mentions this controversy in next Sunday's New York Times:

http://nytimes.com/2004/12/12/arts/12rich.html?8hpib

Some on this thread wondered if people would start donating to stations other than WUNC. Turns out Ipas is sponsoring WNCU now. (According to a link on wncu.org) "Ipas, new sponsor, Dec. '04"

Perhaps this incessant fundraising that WUNC is doing is to replace the funds lost from the IPAS funding? Personally I think WUNC's new mission is to raise money, and only incidentially to run a public radio station. I have been a 20 year supporter of that station, but the constant fundraising this year coupled with the IPAS controversy has finally pushed me over the edge. I turned on the radio this weekend only to hear yet ANOTHER fund raiser, on the heels of the last one of about 5 weeks ago.

Because of this incessant campaign for funds, as well as the censorship of IPAS' message while promoting Wal-Mart as a great company, I have now directed my public radio donations to WNCU. It's a wonderful station with great music and NPR reporting. And as a small town southerner, I LOVE the awesome gospel music hour on Sunday mornings! It si GREAT.

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