NPR Station Loses Hearing Over Bias Against Pro-Life Group

State   |   Martha Schieber   |   Apr 3, 2012   |   7:37PM   |   Washington, DC

The Washington News Council (WNC) held a three-hour public hearing Saturday, March 31, at the University of Washington’s Communications Building on a complaint by the Vitae Foundation against KUOW 94.9 FM Public Radio in Seattle. The WNC voted Vitae’s way on five of the six questions posed on the NPR affiliate’s ethical handling of the original story which aired April 13, 2011.

Pia de Solenni represented Vitae and Guy Nelson, News Director of KUOW, spoke for the radio station. “At the end of the day, this is not about which side of the abortion debate one happens to stand on, but about the accountability of news outlets that is absolutely essential in a free and democratic society,” de Solenni noted.

Nelson continued to insist that “the story was not about Vitae, it was about the legislation.”
de Solenni countered the legislation wasn’t mentioned until much later in the story, after KUOW allowed Planned Parenthood their editorial of Vitae’s billboards and YourOptions website. “If this was about the legislation, then you wouldn’t have waited until half way through the piece to bring it up. You also would have identified the bill number and sponsor, which you didn’t,” de Solenni countered. “Vitae’s ads weren’t about CareNet or the legislation.”

WNC Hearings Board members voted on six questions relating to the complaint. The full questions, and the Council’s votes, follow.

  1. Did KUOW have a journalistic responsibility to contact Vitae Foundation, YourOptions, and/or CareNet for comment before airing the April 13, 2011, news story?
    YES – 11 votes; NO – 0 votes
  2. Did KUOW have a responsibility to give equal airtime to both sides, Vitae Foundation as well as Planned Parenthood, in a news story about Vitae’s advertising campaign?
    YES – 5 votes; NO – 3 votes; ABSTAIN – 3 votes
  3. Did KUOW’s story accurately characterize the abortion information that was accessible on the website?
    YES – 1 vote; NO – 8 votes; ABSTAIN – 2 votes
  4. Did the original KUOW news story contain substantive errors worthy of public, on-air corrections and/or clarifications?
    YES – 10 votes; NO – 0 votes; ABSTAIN – 1 vote
  5. Did the follow-up interview by Guy Nelson with Debbie Stokes, posted on KUOW’s website on Sept. 30, 2011, sufficiently acknowledge and/or clarify errors in the original story?
    YES – 4 votes; NO – 6 votes; ABSTAIN – 1 vote
  6. Did KUOW have any responsibility to provide Vitae Foundation additional on-air coverage after the original news story aired?
    YES – 1 vote; NO – 10 votes

“This is huge!” according to Vitae President Carl Landwehr. “We live in a time of 24-hour news cycles, and when the media gets it wrong, there has to be some sort of accountability. We contacted KUOW within 24 hours of them airing the original erroneous story, and all Vitae received was a letter from the news correspondent saying, ‘I could have taken an extra step in contacting you’ and e-mails from Mr. Nelson saying the story wasn’t about Vitae.”

“Thank goodness for the Washington News Council! Without them, news outlets in Washington State can run amuck hurting the reputations of groups they may not see eye-to-eye with on an issue. I wish every state in this country had an independent group making sure journalistic ethics were being followed,” Landwehr noted. The hearing was filmed by UWTV and the WNC. A link to the full video will be posted soon on the WNC’s website. Note: Martha Schieber is the Communications Director for Vitae Foundation. The pro-life organization has long sponsored pro-life advertising campaigns that haven been proven to reduce abortions and change public opinion.