Public media should exercise careful consideration when deciding who can underwrite its news programming. In particular, stations should carefully assess potential underwriters whose agenda is designed to bring about a specific political outcome or to influence public policy on controversial matters.
Proposed News Policy: Underwriting General News Programming:
In determining who can underwrite on a station, consider these questions:
- Is the underwriter’s mission to primarily influence governmental decision making?
- Does the underwriter take positions on controversial public policy issues?
- Does the underwriter organization’s lobbying activity focus on issues that are subject to the stations current news coverage?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, the station should pause and give such funding careful thought.
There are two distinct areas where the station should refrain from accepting underwriting, they are:
- Political parties and candidates.
- Organizations that espouse views that are generally accepted as extreme.
Proposed News Policy: Funding News Specials
In general, news specials should not be funded by organizations that have a stake in the specific content covered in a program. Consider the following examples:
- An energy company funding news program on clean power alternatives.
- A hospital or clinic funding a news program on health care costs.
- A mortgage bank funding a news program on housing costs.
If a consumer would wonder whether a funder might influence the direction of a news special, then stations will be well served to reject this type of funding.
Government and nonprofit entities:
Regarding funding from nonprofit and government entities, what constitutes a vested interest? Ask these questions:
- What is the motivation of the funder, public information or political interest?
- Is this a project that the station would do regardless of the funder?
If the station determines that the funder’s motives are focused on public information or if the project was one that the station would produce on its’ own, then move forward.
Many public media organizations have reached out to local and national foundations to fund specific programming. In considering this option, stations should consider the following questions:
- Will the foundation respect the editorial firewall set by the station?
- Is the public profile of the foundation such that it will pose questions about whether the program will be unbiased?
An additional question in funding news or news specials is whether having funders with off- setting interests negate the appearance of vested interest or undue influence on news content. This depends on the nature of the news special or series, if the content is not tied to the specific interest of the funder, then having funders with offsetting interest is acceptable.
Summary Statement on funding news programs.
It is crucial that stations sort through the ramifications of each potential course of action to be sure that their decisions meet a reasonable standard for avoiding the appearance of undue influence when producing news content. We also believe it is critical for stations to convey to staff, users and the funding community the reasons behind specific decisions, particularly if a decision to either accept or reject a particular funder is likely to be controversial.