Monday, 19 July 2010

The Press

Government “help” and journalistic integrity

Not thinking it through... Dept

Lee Bollinger (president, Columbia University) thinks we need a government subsidy for journalists:
The institutions of the press we have inherited are the result of a mixed system of public and private cooperation.  Trusting the market alone to provide all the news coverage we need would mean venturing into the unknown—a risky proposition with a vital public institution hanging in the balance.
...
There are examples of other institutions in the U.S. where state support does not translate into official control.  The most compelling are our public universities and our federal programs for dispensing billions of dollars annually for research.
Funny he should pick that as an example:
RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina’s public television network has turned over to state lawmakers material from its yet-to-be-aired documentary on Alcoa Inc.

WRAL-TV reports UNC-TV lawyers decided not to fight a subpoena from a Senate judiciary committee because it is a public agency and may not fall under North Carolina’s 1999 press shield law protecting reporters from revealing information that hasn’t been printed or broadcast.
Details:
[State Senator Fletcher] Hartsell [chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee II] on Thursday order[ed] UNC-TV General Manager Tom Howe and legislative reporter Eszter Vajda to provide a copy of “all footage (including all interviews, B-roll and camera masters) in your possession regarding the Alcoa Corporation’s activities in Stanly County.”
Result:
UNC-TVs appearance before the Senate judiciarys committee Tuesday essentially transformed public television and radio reporters into investigative agents for the state.  That should send cold shivers up the spine of every citizen who believes that reporters should be governmental watchdogs, not potential lapdogs.
Reporters as agents of the state, huh?  I imagine there are some out there who would see that as a feature, not a bug.

Oh, and Alcoa has now filed a state FOIA request for the unaired material.


LATER:  Computer flakiness interrupted me while I was preparing this for posting last Thursday.  Now that I’ve gotten back to it, it turns out events took an interesting turn. Leroy Towns:
At some point, the story’s reporter pieced together a new story and took it to the legislature for viewing.  What’s unclear here is whether the reporter’s actions were sanctioned by UNC-TV, or whether she did it on her own without permission of the station.  No credible media outlet I am aware of would sanction a reporter doing that.
Even so (Towns continues):
A court might well rule that UNC-TV is a state agency and thus subject to open records laws.  But a media outlet that fails to put up a stiff fight gives up its claim to be “news media.”

Elsewhere:
On Alcoa/North Carolina:
Coverage at Isaac Hunter’s Tavern (blog by WUNC reporter Laura Leslie):
April 14, 2009:  Sloganeering
April 30, 2009:  Wed. Late: Otherwise (“Fightin’ Words”)
July 7, 2010:  The Alcoa Story
July 9, 2010:  Alcoa Update
July 13, 2010:  The Press On The Press
July 14, 2010:  Vajda’s Alcoa Testimony
July 16, 2010:  Alcoa Story Update: Vajda Responds
Leroy Towns:  Public TV, radio need independence
Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors Objects to Subpoena

On Bollinger:

HT:  Pete Kaliner of Charlotte’s WBT, who was talking about this last Wednesday.

Posted by: Old Grouch in The Press at 17:08:36 GMT | No Comments | Add Comment
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