Reacting to Drones complaint, ombudsman says links to underwriters “need to be made clear”

By Dru Sefton

PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler is weighing in on the controversy over an underwriter on Nova’s recent program, Rise of the Drones. Earlier this week, FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) complained that the report was sponsored in part by Lockheed Martin, which manufactures the unmanned aircraft. In response, WGBH said it “fully adheres” to funding guidelines.

Getler writes in his latest column that he’s received around 700 comments generated by the FAIR “Action Alert.”

“In cases such as this one,” he writes, “it always seems to me that it is journalistically proper, and much less costly in the long run, to give transparency the benefit of the doubt — when common sense tells you there might be the perception of a conflict or question — than not to do so.”

“Lockheed, of course, has a perfect right to offer to underwrite a series such as Nova,” Getler writes. “But when a planned specific segment cuts as close to the bone as this one on drones did to the business interests of a sponsor, the producers should ask the underwriter to bow out of the whole series right from the start. Or, if that is not the case when the series started out, those linkages need to be made clear during the body of the program.”

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