Working Groups: Funding and Firewalls
The world of public media in America is made up of a diverse set of institutions; urban and rural, small and large, some focused primarily on news and others focused on a broad array of community services. Despite those variations, editorial principles are important to every licensee. We begin with a proposed overarching statement of principle which we believe all stations can subscribe to, no matter their specific orientation or mission.
Statement of Editorial Principle
We believe public broadcasting/media occupies a unique space in American culture, an intersection where the public's overwhelming trust in our enterprise confronts today's fractured media environment. The trust we have been granted occurs at a time when consumers can readily select media that is designed to reinforce specific points of view, where opinion and fact become unlabeled and interchangeable. Public broadcasting, on the other hand, offers a trusted, non-partisan editorial safe harbor, where there is a constancy of purpose and an unfailing allegiance to truth, accuracy and fairness. Accordingly, all public broadcasting stations subscribe to this principle:
Public broadcasting content will always represent facts as facts, opinions as opinions, and will exert care to label each accordingly. This standard applies to all content produced by public media, regardless of subject matter, including news, science, history, information and cultural content. It applies across all platforms: radio, television, print and online. We believe this principle should apply universally to all of the many broadcast and online services we provide to the American people, now and into the future.
The Challenge of Matching Principles with Resources
To produce content that subscribes to our stated principle obviously requires resources and funding support. And the source of that funding can, in turn, create questions about how faithfully stations adhere to the very beliefs described above. In 2004, University of Oregon professor Alan Stivitsky and NPR Ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin put the problem like this:
"The facts of life in public radio include the need to seek outside funding to pay for what we do. Money, of course, often comes with strings attached, whether explicit or implicit. Our challenge, then, is to obtain the funds we need, while keeping the funders from influencing our journalism."
The Updated Guide for Public Radio Journalism, 2004
To contend with this challenge, we believe stations need to develop specific policies that define how they will maintain appropriate firewalls between funders and content production. It is understood that this is an arena where audience and funder perceptions will inevitably be affected by the actions and policies national program producers adopt, but that fact only adds to the importance that each station craft guidelines to reflect their specific orientation and service mission. The policies may vary, but each set of policies should be informed by our common adherence to our principles and to a process that safeguards the public trust.