Economy

NPR, 'World Of Opera' Split Over Host's Role In Protests

NPR will no longer distribute World of Opera, an NPR spokeswoman said in a statement sent to its member stations Friday evening. WDAV, a station based in Charlotte, N.C., and owned by Davidson College, will take over distribution of the public radio opera show.

Lisa Simeone
WDAV

This comes days after news broke that Lisa Simeone, the program's freelance host, was acting as a spokeswoman for protesters affiliated with "October 2011," a group of activists camping out in the city's Freedom Plaza to protest against war and corporate greed. The protests in Washington, D.C. are an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Dana Davis Rehm, senior vice president for communications for NPR, said the decision to change the arrangement came "from different views about the role of a program host." She said NPR believes hosts "represent NPR regardless of the type of program they host." As such, they are barred from any political activity.

Updated at 9:19 p.m. ET: Simeone called the move an "overreaction" on NPR's part. She added that she did not think the new arrangement would have any adverse effect on the show. "It'll continue having operas from all over the world," she said.

As NPR's David Folkenflik reported, yesterday, Simeone was let go as host of Soundprint, a documentary program that is independently produced for public radio stations, but WDAV decided she would keep her job as host of World of Opera. The station, which focuses on arts and cultural programming, said that "Ms. Simeone's activities outside of this job are not in violation of any of WDAV's employee codes and have had no effect on her job performance at WDAV."

Scott Nolan, WDAV's general manager, did not immediately respond to our request for comment.

But WDAV issued a statement, saying "listeners' experience of the show will be unchanged."

It's important to note that Simeone is not employed or even paid by NPR. Instead, she is a freelancer for station WDAV. In a statement, yesterday, NPR said it "fully [respected] that the management of WDAV is solely responsible for the decision making around Lisa's participation in Occupy DC and her freelance role with WDAV's program..."

We asked Rehm if the decision to no longer distribute the show contradicts that statement. She said NPR did not view this decision as punitive toward the station and that "reasonable people can disagree."

"We've been working to figure out how to make this a smooth transition," she said.

Rehm said, however, that employees of any program that carries the NPR name, is produced or distributed by NPR are bound by its ethics policy. Rehm said a lot of member stations adopt NPR's ethics policies but that's not required by NPR.

Simeone said previously she was "puzzled" by NPR's concerns about her involvement in the protest group.

"I've never brought a whiff of my political activities into the work I've done for NPR World of Opera," Simeone said in an email to David Folkenflik. "What is NPR afraid I'll do — insert a seditious comment into a synopsis of Madame Butterfly?"

She also told The Baltimore Sun she felt NPR was treating her differently.

"This sudden concern with my political activities is also surprising in light of the fact that Mara Liaason reports on politics for NPR yet appears as a commentator on FoxTV, Scott Simon hosts an NPR news show yet writes political op-eds for national newspapers, Cokie Roberts reports on politics for NPR yet accepts large speaking fees from businesses," Simeone said.

Rehm said NPR does not "see a valid comparison." She said those are "entirely different situations." She said Simeone was being an activist, which is "quite different" from what host Scott Simon does.

Update at 9:19 p.m. ET: In an interview with us, Simeone said she thought there was no difference between her "partisanship and theirs." She said to make that distinction was "nonsense."

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: