Funding Credits Fuel Controversy

Alicia Shepard, NPR's ombudsman, "the public's representative [to NPR]," will join us, as she does from time to time, to tell us what concerns and questions listeners have raised, and how she has responded to them.

Last week, Shepard wrote a column about NPR's underwriting, called "Should NPR Run Funding Credits from the Department of Homeland Security?"

Immigration is an especially hot-button topic. So it's not surprising that when NPR began running a funding credit on Nov. 10 for the Department of Homeland Security's E-Verify program, my office heard from listeners and a few concerned public radio station managers.

They all questioned NPR's judgment in running the credit about the federal computer program that employers use voluntarily to check the legal status of new hires. At the least, some said, it is not a good fit for NPR. Some suggested NPR is endorsing E-Verify.

(You can read more about underwriting here, on the NPR News Code of Ethics and Practices.)

Public radio funding credits have been controversial before.

In North Carolina, according to the News & Observer:

An international women's health organization has stopped giving money to WUNC-FM after the public radio station said it could no longer describe the group on-air as working for reproductive "rights."

The conflict between Ipas and WUNC has drawn national attention. Last month WUNC informed Ipas that it would have to remove "rights" from its on-air acknowledgement, which had read, in part, "Ipas, a Chapel Hill-based nonprofit that protects women's reproductive health and rights at home and abroad."

Joan Siefert Rose, WUNC's general manager, said the phrase could be interpreted as advocating a political position, potentially running afoul of Federal Communications Commission regulations.

And in Missouri, according to Black Issues in Higher Education:

A federal judge has ruled that the University of Missouri-St. Louis does not have to broadcast Ku Klux Klan announcements on its radio station.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Mummert rejected the KKK's request to require KWMU-FM to air the announcements. The Klan had sued the university's board of curators after the chancellor, Dr. Blanche M. Touhill rejected the group's request in October to underwrite KWMU-FM radio programs in exchange for fifteen-second promotional announcements during the afternoon rush hour.

If you still want to learn more about underwriting on public radio, Marketplace, from American Public Media, did a series on the subject a few years ago.

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