WLRN les­son: Stand up for in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ism

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - VOICES & OPIN­ION - By Rick John­son

A Florida school board wants to run a local ra­dio sta­tion’s news­room.

Why should you care?

You should care, be­cause this in­ci­dent is about much more than one sta­tion and a hand­ful of local politi­cians look­ing to ex­pand their con­trol. This is about your abil­ity to get straight, un­bi­ased news re­port­ing with­out a gov­ern­ment agency look­ing over the re­porters’ shoul­ders.

TheMi­ami-Dade School Board is mov­ing for­ward­with a plan to take con­trol ofWLRN, Mi­ami’s highly re­spected pub­lic ra­dio sta­tion’s news­room. The pro­posal would give the school board the di­rect author­ity to hire and fire jour­nal­ists. This could en­able the school board to in­flu­ence how the news —in­clud­ing news about the school board— gets re­ported on WLRN’s air­waves.

WLRNis an af­fil­i­ate ofNa­tional Pub­lic Ra­dio, with19 re­porters and editors who are cur­rently em­ployed by an in­de­pen­dent non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion. This ar­range­ment en­sures that nei­ther the school board, which holds the sta­tion’s li­cense to op­er­ate, nor donors to the sta­tion have any di­rect in­flu­ence over jour­nal­ists’ decision-mak­ing about what sto­ries to cover and howto cover them.

This kind of fire­wall helps en­sure that news is not driven or shaped by a po­lit­i­cal agenda and it is a stan­dard in the news busi­ness.

The school board ar­gues that it wants to es­tab­lish higher lev­els of crim­i­nal back­ground checks for em­ploy­ees and greater trans­parency over the sta­tion’s fi­nances. How­ever, there is noth­ing in the cur­rent ar­range­ment that pre­vents these goals frombe­ing im­ple­mented now.

This­move by the school board raises con­cerns that its real goal is ed­i­to­rial in­flu­ence over the news­room. For ex­am­ple, it has been widely re­ported that the school board­was in­censed by re­cent sto­ries thatwere crit­i­cal of the qual­ity of school lunches be­ing served to Mi­ami-Dade stu­dents. Who­hasn’t com­plained about school cafe­te­ria food?

Be­cause of the preva­lence of “fake news” and the de­clin­ing trust Amer­i­cans have in the news me­dia, it is of­ten said that these are tough times for jour­nal­ism. But, this ob­ser­va­tion misses the real point that these are tough times for all Amer­i­cans.

Pub­lic ra­dio sta­tions likeWLRN and many other news or­ga­ni­za­tions be­lieve in the mis­sion of jour­nal­ism to serve the peo­ple by re­port­ing the truth as closely as that can be known, to re­port news that has an impact on your life, and to do it in a way that is im­par­tial, fair and ac­cu­rate.

In or­der to carry out this mis­sion, news­rooms must be in­de­pen­dent from the in­ter­ests of the or­ga­ni­za­tions they must cover.

WLRNal­ready has a sys­tem in place that­works. It has won nu­mer­ous pro­fes­sional awards for the qual­ity of itswork. They have thou­sands of de­voted lis­ten­ers who count on and trust their news re­ports and pub­lic af­fairs pro­gram­ming.

The Mi­ami-Dade school board should leave it alone.

Rick John­son is chair­man of the Board of the Florida Pub­lic Broad­cast­ing Ser­vice and the gen­eral man­ager ofWGCU-FM/TV in FortMy­ers.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.