Media critics are heaping scorn on Minnesota Public Radio’s Pasadena station for suspending Planned Parenthood spots during the recent federal budget-cutting debate. Republicans sought to cut the group’s funding, but were ultimately unsuccessful.
KPCC-FM’s parent is American Public Media Group, MPR’s St. Paul-based corporate umbrella. According to a memo obtained by L.A. Observed, KPCC-FM program director Craig Curtis ordered the “short-term suspension” Friday to last through the weekend, writing:
There is nothing wrong with the spots per se, or with our business relationship with Planned Parenthood, but for a few days their presence on our air might raise questions in the mind of the “reasonable listener” regarding our editorial and sales practices.
According to The Nation, MPR denies having a role in KPCC’s operational decision, adding it has no Planned Parenthood spots to bump. For his part, Curtis (a former MPR staffer) calls the move a “routine procedural one” that occurs when an underwriter becomes the center of a major news story.
The argument against what KPCC did is pretty straightforward: you have and will take the cash, why obfuscate it? For all the concern about the “reasonable listener,” playing three-card monte with your money isn’t exactly keeping faith with your high-quality audience.
And of course, you get accused of cowardice. Quips the Nation, “A ‘reasonable listener’ might now have questions about the journalistic integrity of the station.”
That said, avoiding the collision of advertiser and story is hardly unique to public radio. Newspapers regularly shift ads off a page if a nearby story is about the advertiser. Like the KPCC move, it’s designed so fewer readers will make the connection between finances and journalism, even if the newsroom is insulated from advertiser influence.
Sometimes, the advertiser is grateful for the separation. (I couldn’t find quotes from anyone at Planned Parenthood about KPCC’s move.)
MPR took over KPCC in 2000; according to KPCC’s site, it is governed by a separate board of trustees and a regional advisory council. American Public Media Group appoints the board based on the California board’s recommendation. MPR alums include Curtis, host John Rabe and journalist Than Tibbetts Sanden Totten.