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Memo to WBAI: call the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (if you haven’t yet)

WBAILast week Joel Kaplan, Ombudsman for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, posted a commentary on Pacifica radio station WBAI in New York City. “So far during my tenure as ombudsman there have not been a significant number of complaints about any of the Pacifica stations—until now,” Kaplan noted.

He then cited one from one Mr. Louis Bedrock, a retired science teacher. Bedrock complained of what Kaplan summarized as “ethically-challenged fundraising activities.” These include excessively long marathons at the New York station. “In what I believe is a violation of the station’s non-profit status, WBAI raises money be selling books, CDs and DVDs at greatly inflated prices,” some produced by station employees, Bedrock wrote to the CPB.

“As a recovering cancer patient, I am offended by the hawking of materials that offer outlandish ‘alternative’ cures for cancer. Curing cancer by diet, and special programs that the government and medical establishment repress is the theme of many of the station’s premiums.”

What the CPB thinks about these matters is of significance to Pacifica. In 2011 the five Pacifica stations received CPB grants ranging from almost $79,000 down to $47,000.

Kaplan also corresponded with former WBAI general manager Chris Albertson, who expressed similar concerns.

“Now it’s like constant fundraising, months at a time,” Albertson is quoted as saying in the post. “The things they are offering, they are actually lying to the listeners. One or two fundraisers ago they were offering something called Double Helix water that they said would cure not only cancer, but leukemia and autism. All you needed was a drop or two in a bigger container and it would cure it. It was outrageous.”

The CPB official also noted that for over a month he’s tried to get in touch with WBAI’s general manager or other employees. But “to no avail. They have not responded to either email messages or phone calls.”

Over the weekend, I wrote to Kaplan myself, asking if anyone from ‘BAI had gotten back to him yet.

“I haven’t heard officially from WBAI yet though I have heard from some volunteers who expressed concerns about the station,” he wrote to me on Sunday.

I also asked him if the CPB has any fundraising ethics guidelines.

“I do not believe that CPB has specific guidelines for fundraising but I will check into that,” he replied. But he directed my attention to a code of editorial integrity produced by the CPB funded Public Media Project. Although the code is a very sensible read, I was unable to find anything in its fundraising section on long marathons or allegedly fraudulent products.

To be fair to WBAI, the station is aware of the lengthy marathon problem. Its local station board passed a resolution several years ago asking management to address the concern. And as Albertson notes on his blog, various programmers and WBAI board officials have expressed skepticism or outright concern about the Double Helix water cure.

But it would probably be a good thing if WBAI station management called the CPB, if they haven’t since Kaplan wrote back to me (I emailed ‘BAI general manager Berthold Reimers, but received no reply). This should probably be done soon: “I am contemplating doing a follow-up” Kaplan mentioned in his email.

Suggested script: “Hi CPB. We share your concerns. We are working on the problems. Let’s talk again soon. Thanks.”

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