Here is a clear-cut case for the de-funding of public television.  Here you have elected legislators pressuring UNC-TV to air a controversial documentary without the usual editorial scrutiny.  The documentary in question painted a one-sided, negative picture of Alcoa.  Alcoa is trying to get a renewal of its license to operate hydroelectric dams in the Yadkin River Basin.  The State of North Carolina is challenging the license renewal and in fact, wants to take over the property and the operation of the dams.

State Senator Marc Basnight pressured UNC-TV officials to air the documentary with little editorial oversight, telling UNC-TV General Manager Tom Howe, “I want you to make sure this story is told in an honest, unjaded, truthful appraisal of the situation without influence from anyone associated with Alcoa.”, according to the Charlotte Observer. Basnight said that he’d heard rumors that the reporter’s boss was challenging the reporter’s work and was not going to let the reporter tell the story ‘as she found it.’  These pressures caused the publicly funded station to cave in and air the documentary with little editorial oversight.  The documentary aired with the disclaimer “that the station was taking the unprecedented step to air the reports without customary editorial reviews.”

Basnight claims he was not aware of any influence by Alcoa to effect the story but that he’d been told by other legislators that it might be occurring.  These allegation of influence from other lawmakers was all he needed to step in and wield his billy club of influence.   And wield it he did.  This is what happens when you mix government and journalism.  Journalism become propaganda.

After the 3-part documentary aired, Alcoa sought documents from UNC-TV through a Freedom of Information Act Request and found that  three faculty members of the journalism school UNC Chapel Hill had issued a harsh report on this matter saying, “It is our view that UNC-TV management should have not wavered in light of such criticism; should have maintained editorial control and reported the story.”

Just another day at the office for our State Senator.

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