We've received lots of mail today about WDAV World of Opera host Lisa Simeone and her involvement with Occupy DC. As news ombudsman, I focus on news coverage issues and the journalism being produced at NPR. I am independent in choosing what to write about, and what I say when I do.
Simeone, however, is a non-NPR employee who hosts an opera program produced by a North Carolina public radio station that has nothing to do with news. The program is distributed by NPR, but Simeone has no influence or role in NPR news. The issue surrounding her, therefore, is a management and legal one. Any comments listeners want to make should be addressed to Audience Services.
This situation does offer an opportunity to talk about the NPR ethics code as it applies to the news department. The code is available in full online. Part of my responsibility is to investigate any suspected violation of that code by a member of the news division. So that you know, the code states:
"NPR journalists may not participate in marches and rallies involving causes or issues that NPR covers, nor should they sign petitions or otherwise lend their name to such causes, or contribute money to them."
Many of you who called and emailed today expressed surprise that a news organization would discourage its employees from political participation. In truth, that's not unusual. Most mainstream news organizations operate under similar ethics codes. The reason is to assure listeners, readers and viewers that there is no conflict of interest behind the news they receive. The reason, in other words, is to maintain your trust. Should you think that trust is violated in any way by reporters or editors at NPR, please let me know immediately and I will investigate it.
That said, my position exists precisely because NPR and its managers, editors and reporters are committed to upholding the highest ethical standards.