Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Sponsor Trouble

On All Things Considered today, Cheryl Corley reported on a brouhaha going on at an NPR station in Pittsburgh, WDUQ. WDUQ recently decided to return money to Planned Parenthood and decline to have them sponsor a show. I got the impression that they had purchased something a bit more ad-like than the normal NPR "this show brought to you by " because the Planned Parent representative specifically said that they were advertising some of their non-abortion services like birth control and gynecological care, but regardless, it was an NPR ad so I'm sure it was still pretty low-key.

Now, I suppose NPR should be able to accept or reject any sponsor they choose. For instance, according to Ms. Corley, there was a lawsuit that NPR won a while back where the Ku Klux Klan was trying to force an NPR station to let them be sponsors; obviously I'd prefer that NPR would be able to avoid that sort of thing. However, NPR is a publicly funded radio station, on airwaves that are specially set aside for non-commercial/educational stations (actually KUOW, our local station, is an exception to this last part but in general it's true). In my head that puts them in a similar class to a school or library, where you'd expect that they'd have to be pretty open to any sponsor unless they were doing something illegal (I wouldn't expect a crack dealer to be able to sponsor a show, for instance, and the Ku Klux Klan falls somewhat into this bucket since they get persecuted for hate crimes quite regularly). Frankly, if they don't get their money from Planned Parenthood, they'll have to get it from their listeners or the government, aka us.

Even more disturbing, though, is the reason behind this decision. WDUQ resides on the campus of Dunsque University, a Catholic School. From their website:
Duquesne University holds the broadcast license for DUQ's 25,000-watt broadcast signal. The station is a non-academic unit reporting to the Provost and Academic Vice President. Duquesne University provides DUQ with annual in-kind support (facilities and services) and 6% of cash funding. DUQ is considered self-sustaining. This means that DUQ must raise its direct cash operating support from sources outside of the University, such as membership and program underwriting.
Dunsque University was apparently offended by the Planned Parenthood ads and asked that they be discontinued, and the station complied. I can't really blame WDUQ; moving the station would be extremely expensive and the University provides 6% of their cash funding as mentioned above. However, there's no doubt that there's a short and slippery slope between removing a sponsor and editing a story. The University representative interviewed for the story denied that the school would ever make such a ludicrous request, but I have to say I'm extremely skeptical. I thought the whole purpose of NPR being government and listener funded was that public radio didn't have to kowtow to special interests so it could be as fair as possible. Isn't that hard enough these days? It's disappointing that a school that clearly values public radio like Dunsque University would choose to mess with one of its fundamental characteristics.

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