WGBH “fully adheres” to funding guidelines, it says in response to Nova critics

By Dru Sefton

WGBH is defending its underwriting practices in the wake of complaints from FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) over Lockheed Martin’s sponsorship of Novas “Rise of the Drones.”

In a statement late Tuesday afternoon, WGBH, the presenting station for the science series, said:  “WGBH fully adheres to PBS funding guidelines and takes our public trust responsibility very seriously.  With regard to Nova “Rise of the Drones,” Lockheed Martin’s sponsorship of Nova  is not a violation of the PBS underwriting guidelines.”

“First and foremost,” the statement continued, “Lockheed Martin, like all WGBH/PBS program funders, had no editorial involvement in the program. Their credit on this episode was part of the ongoing recognition they have been receiving for their support of the Nova series since January 2012.  Their credit is included, along with other funders, for episodes in that period; their funding is not directed to or connected with any particular episode.”

FAIR noted that the program included comments from Abe Karem, known as “the father of the Predator” drone. His company has a business relationship with Lockheed Martin, FAIR said, citing reporting from a blog on FireDogLake, a collaborative progressive news site.

“With regard to Abe Karem’s relationship with Lockheed Martin,” WGBH said, “that has no relevance to the story we were presenting in this program. Mr. Karem was included because he is a crucial early figure in the current generation of drone development, and we would have been remiss not to include him in this episode.”

FAIR also pointed out that the Lockheed Martin credit “was removed from the webcast, and the company is not credited on the Nova website for the episode.”

WGBH answered: “PBS, as a matter of standard practice, deletes all funder credits from the streamed/online version of the program. We will include Lockheed Martin in the list of funders on the Nova website for full transparency.”

It concludes that the episode “makes a responsible and significant contribution to the public understanding of theimpact of these rapidly developing technologies. The program addresses the ethical and moral issues raised by the latest generation of drones. It has generated significant coverage and discussion in the media. Judging by that, it has had the important effect of advancing the public dialogue about the complex issues and controversies involved in drone technology. This is entirely in keeping with the Nova, WGBH and PBS mission.”

PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler told Current he has received more than 650 comments on the subject as of Wednesday morning. Getler said he’ll address the topic in a future column.

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