NPR fights against criticism, spending cuts

March 27th, 2011

Imagine getting in the car on the way to work or the store and scanning the radio for the news, but being unable to find it. You scan for the NPR affiliate, but it is missing.

That is the future that 27.5 million NPR listeners could face this time next year, as a cloud of controversy has forced the media group to make tough decisions in the last 12 months.

Since its inception in 1970, NPR (formally National Public Radio) has faced criticism on both sides of the political aisle for alleged bias and partisanship.

Often times, the cultural programming and community driven news that the network provides have taken a backseat to scandals and controversies surrounding its commentators and administrators.

The past year has been no different for NPR. Programs like “All Things Considered” and “A Way With Words” have taken a backseat to names like Juan Williams and Ronald Schiller.

Last October, NPR terminated the contract of senior national correspondent Juan Williams because of comments he made on Fox News Channel.

On “The O’Reilly Factor” in January 2010, Williams made remarks about being fearful of being on planes with Muslims.

CEO Vivian Schiller made remarks criticizing Williams at the National Press Club days later, and was forced to apologize.

Some have claimed NPR fired Williams because the remarks were made on Fox News.

This March, NPR was embroiled in controversy again when VP of fundraising Ronald Schiller (no relation to Vivian Schiller), was secretly recorded making controversial comments about the Tea Party, evangelical Christians and the Republican Party.

Schiller characterized the GOP as “Islamophobic” and said that removing federal funding would be good for NPR because it would make them more independent.

When the video, posted by conservative blogger James O’Keefe, hit the Internet, Schiller resigned.

On March 17, the House approved legislation to fund the government for the next three weeks. They also approved a bill to block public radio stations from spending public funds on programming, most likely a direct response to the Schiller video.

What does this all mean for NPR?

In short, if the spending cuts stand, NPR will only be allowed to use taxpayer money for administrative costs.

This means NPR will rely even more on  public funding to stay afloat, much in the same way John Carroll’s WJCU operates.

Mark Krieger, general manager of WJCU, weighed in on NPR’s recent troubles.

He believes the House vote is nothing more than the GOP using funding of public broadcasters as a “partisan political football.” “NPR is the only domestic radio network remaining that engages in serious journalism,” he said. “It is a critical link in keeping citizens informed.”

Krieger also believes that people are missing the big picture in the NPR controversy.

“NPR programming is much more than news,” Krieger said. “It embraces all the arts and culture, and delivers it to many places in America that have little access to those things.”