The New York Times brings us the shameful news that PBS has once again capitulated in the face of public opposition to NPR’s Mideast coverage by Christian evangelicals and pro-Israel Jews (including one California congressman). This time it was the exemplary New Israel Fund which felt the sting when its radio spots were rejected for NPR stations in New York and San Francisco.
This is controversial advocacy?? click here
to learn more about this NIF project
According to the Times, an executive at the advertising company which maintains KQED’s (San Francisco) advertising program sent an e mail saying that “the rejection of the underwriting credit by the station came in response to listener complaints about National Public Radio’s news coverage of the Middle East.” Officials at KQED and WNYC disputed this saying:
they rejected the underwriting credit…in exchange for an advertisement, because it was the kind of advocacy advertising that they routinely decline.
What the hell is that supposed to mean? Here’s KQED’s sponsorship guidelines published on their own site:
What is not allowed on KQED Public Radio:
* No comparative statements (e.g. the best, bigger, faster)
* No qualitative statements which involve subjective evaluation of quality (e.g. fine, great, rich, superb)
* No price information (including “free”)
* No call to action statements which direct the audience: to call, to visit, to try, to compare
* No inducement to buy statements which direct the audience to purchase the product (e.g. free trial period, 2 for 1)
* No first or second pronouns (e.g. I, me, you)
So what about NIF ad or its agenda violates these guidelines? It doesn’t even say a word about “advocacy” here.
Here’s the original message NIF proposed airing with its ad along with the amended later version:
support for the station “comes from the New Israel Fund, promoting equality and social justice for all Israelis” and directs listeners to the organization’s Web site, www.nif.org. An earlier version contained a clause directing listeners to visit the fund’s Web site “for information on Israel’s disengagement from Gaza,” but that phrase was deleted after it was challenged by some stations, including WETA, for running afoul of their positions against advocacy ads.
How is promoting “equality and social justice for all Israelis” advocacy advertising? And how is providing “information on Israel’s disengagement from Gaza” advocacy advertising? Besides, this IS the policy of the Israeli government. So what would make it “controversial?” It’s controversial to the settler movement no doubt who oppose the disengagement. But should the settlers and their domestic supporters in the U.S. be setting PBS and NPR’s agenda?
Would PBS refuse sponsor ads from the NAACP? Or from the Ford Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation or any number of others which promote social justice? I doubt it. So what’s the difference with NIF? The entire difference is the existence of a small, vociferous pro-Israel minority which is so frightened of anything that might remotely be perceived as criticism of Israel (not that I’d agree that NIF does this) that it wishes to completely stifle any discussion of social issues within Israel.
I say it’s shameful that a government-sponsored agency has to kowtow to no-nothings like these. It closes down the free flow of ideas and information about a very important foreign policy issue and it’s downright un-American if you ask me.
By the way, e mails from the advertising agent who negotiated between the NPR stations and NIF indicate that KQED had agreed to the script for the ads:
On May 6 Mr. Zellhart wrote that “KQED/SF is ok with this script,” and he repeated it in an e-mail message on May 16.
Now, KQED and the agent’s boss are placing all the blame squarely on the shoulders of the agent. That’s a low blow and I’m sure glad I don’t work for that guy’s jerky boss. He just decided to make his underling the scapegoat. The station is at fault. Clearly, they authorized the ad and then got cold feet probably when Ken Tomlinson or a high-level CPB board member or someone of that ilk put pressure on them. It’s despicable really.
If you feel like me, if you live in San Francisco or New York and especially if you’re a subscriber, please call, write or e mail the stations to express your displeasure at this lily-livered, cowardly behavior. Tell them they can do better by their subscribers and their viewers.
And perhaps you’d like to support NIF’s important work promoting economic and social equality in Israel?
The Times quotes Jeffrey Dworkin, one of PBS’ two new “liberal-conservative” ombudsmen (is that an oddfellow combination or what?) replies to the controversy:
“Underwriting now has such political overtones, that accepting or rejecting money from a controversial funder will always muddy the waters around public radio’s independence.”
First, what in heaven’s name makes NIF “a controversial funder?” I don’t get it. They protect women from domestic violence. They teach Israeli Arabs how to use computers. They help advocate on behalf of the Israeli poor and elderly. “What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding?” to quote Elvis Costello.
But Dworkin does nail the problem precisely. If they reject funding from NIF then that certainly does seriously call into question the independence of NPR’s radio stations. And rightfully so. So what are they going to do about it?
NPR’s president, Peter Edelman expressed NIF’s deep disappointment at the decision:
“We’re disappointed and a little perplexed because the message is a pretty mainstream message,” Mr. Edelman said. “Ours is a message being stated and endorsed by a wide swath of organizations.”
To me this entire episode should be entitled: Profiles in Cowardice (that’s for all of you old enough to remember JFK’s great book, Profiles in Courage).