Public Radio Station Halts Planned Parenthood Spots

Published on
by
The New York Times

Public Radio Station Halts Planned Parenthood Spots

by
Sean D. Hamill

PITTSBURGH - A public radio station here stopped running underwriting messages from Planned Parenthood and returned its $5,000 donation after the station's license holder, Duquesne University, decided the organization was "not aligned with our Catholic identity."

The decision by the station, WDUQ 90.5 FM, came in the midst of the station's fall pledge drive, and it appears to be costing the station contributions.

"The pledge response has been much lower than usual," said Scott Hanley, the station's general manager, who also serves on the board of directors of National Public Radio. "It's going to hurt."

The decision has also started a heated public debate, which Planned Parenthood has encouraged, over whether the station's news content is independent and, ultimately, whether the station should separate itself from Duquesne, which founded it 58 years ago.

Bridget Fare, a Duquesne spokeswoman, said, "It's important to note that accepting or declining money is completely separate from news decisions."

The debate began on Oct. 8 when WDUQ and other public radio stations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey began running underwriting messages by Planned Parenthood that were part of a large regional advertising campaign.

The messages that ran on WDUQ were written with help from the station's staff and did not mention the abortion services that Planned Parenthood provides.

One of the messages said: "Support for DUQ comes from Planned Parenthood, providing comprehensive sexuality education, including lessons on abstinence. Planned Parenthood: Their mission is prevention."

But after the underwriting messages went on the air, the president of Duquesne, Charles J. Dougherty, received two calls of concern about the spots on Oct. 9, one from a member of his cabinet and another from a university supporter.

Mr. Dougherty discussed the issue with his cabinet and then told Mr. Hanley on Oct. 10 to stop running the messages.

"He was concerned and said it was inappropriate for us to accept a gift from Planned Parenthood," Mr. Hanley said. "And on reflection, I had to respect his opinion."

The station said it had received hundreds of e-mail messages, letters and calls objecting to its decision to stop running the spots, many of them questioning WDUQ's editorial integrity, though some of the responses support its position.

After Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania was told, it asked 5,000 people on its "advocacy list" to call and write Duquesne University and WDUQ.

"Our concern is that we didn't realize to be an underwriter that you had to agree with Catholic doctrine," said Kimberlee Evert, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania. "And it raises another question of whether this should be where N.P.R. programming is housed."

Mr. Hanley said he thought relocating the station was out of the question.

"To think that not accepting one gift of a few thousand dollars is worthy of not continuing 60 years of journalistic integrity doesn't make sense," he said.

© 2007 The New York Times

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