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CPB to talk radio show: disclose your call-in participation rules

The Jim Engster ShowCorporation for Public Broadcasting Ombudsman Joel Kaplan has some advice for public radio station WRKF of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It is fine for your talk shows to have call-in rules, but tell your listeners what they are, and enforce them the same way for everybody.

“It is inappropriate for the station to formulate guidelines for its talk show on an ad hoc basis because it might not like the comments some of its listeners make or the frequency of those comments,” Kaplan writes. “What’s clear is that none of these guidelines are stated on its website.”

The commentary comes following a complaint by one Charles Bethey, who Kaplan says told him his calls to WRKF’s The Jim Engster show are being screened because of his liberal politics. An excerpt from Kaplan’s post:

Mr. Bethley said he believes he is being discriminated against because he is a liberal African American.

“This is Louisiana; this is the Deep South, and when I tell you, these conservative talk show elements are a part of this station, I don’t say that cheek in tongue or to be provocative. I say that because I’ve experienced it,” Mr. Bethley said. “I know when people are playing games. I’m on hold for 20 minutes. I’ve had that problem before. I just ignore it.

“Unfortunately I don’t think this is an isolated event; it’s happened to me twice. (Mr. Gallagher) told me, and you can confirm this, ‘You can only call in twice per week.’ I said, ‘OK, where did this come from?’ He said, ‘The management.’ I said, ‘Well who is management? Did it come from the station manager?’ ‘It just came from management. And he said, ‘Do you want to ask a question or do you want to talk to management? I said I wanted to ask a question and he got upset.

‘Now, something’s got to be done about this behavior. When I called in about questioning people, the station manager said, ‘That’s our policy.’ I said, ‘That’s un-American. You’re not a commercial radio station; you’re a public radio station.’ As long as I’m not making threatening or profane remarks, you have no right to censor what I ask or prescreen my questions. So that’s what you’re dealing with down here.”

Kaplan says he spoke to the station’s general manager, David Gordon, who told him that Engster has “total control” [Kaplan’s words] regarding “how the show is run.”

The CPB Ombudsman’s last word: “If The Jim Engster Show wants to limit calls to no more than twice per week or prescreen its commenters then I suggest it promulgate such guidelines, post them prominently on its website and announce them on air, and make sure that it treats all its callers the same way.”

A footnote to the story: this “total control” business at public and community radio stations always gets me scratching my head. What’s the point of having management at these places if they completely cede their authority to programmers? In any event, I contacted Gordon and Engster for a comment on Kaplan’s post, but received no reply.


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