Current Online

Readers write about bond referendum coverage in North Carolina

These two letters, published in Current, Oct. 2, 2000, comment on an article about the state public TV network's coverage of a bond vote that would benefit both itself (for digital conversion funding) and its licensee (for facilities).

The news is important, and UNC-TV covered it

To the editors:

It was ironic that the same week your article about UNC-TV headlined "Clash over bond referendum coverage" ran in Current [Aug. 21, 2000], there was a banner headline in the Raleigh News & Observer that read "Enrollment Boom Projected for N.C. Colleges."

Your article went on at great length about how a couple of staff members at UNC-TV, which is licensed to the University of North Carolina, objected to management requests that they devote more than token coverage to a $3.1 billion higher education facilities bond referendum—the highest bond issue in North Carolina history. Never mind that the bond affects the future of 59 community colleges, 16 universities and the 100,000 additional students North Carolina will need to accommodate over the next 10 years. Never mind that the bond was one of the biggest issues occupying the North Carolina General Assembly. Never mind that every other major news outlet in the state has been giving it significant coverage for 18 months.

Instead, your article chose to focus on allegations that UNC-TV was in the grips of a controversy over a possible "conflict of interest" because these staff members were not allowed to unilaterally determine policy regarding whether it was appropriate for a university licensee to cover the biggest news issue in the state because it happened to involve the parent university system, and included funding for UNC-TV’s conversion to digital television. Never mind that the debate was over how much coverage to provide, not over what the reporting should say. Never mind that UNC-TV’s official position has always been that both sides of the issue should be covered, with equal weight to all viewpoints. Never mind that there were good-faith attempts to share views and come to a common understanding within UNC-TV. Never mind that the present UNC-TV staff is reporting on the issue thoroughly and professionally.

Your article has done a disservice not only to UNC-TV, but also to the cause of responsible managerial oversight of all news operations. At no time did UNC-TV management attempt to influence coverage of the higher education bond to be more favorable or one-sided. If anything, its concern was to assure that UNC-TV did not cover this issue less than its counterparts in the commercial media. I believe that the management of UNC-TV did what good managers are supposed to do. They saw an operational problem and, entirely within appropriate ethical considerations, they took steps to rectify it. The people of North Carolina are better served as a result.

Steven Volstad
Director of Communications
UNC-TV, Research Triangle Park, N.C.


Coverage by UNC-TV is ‘highly appropriate’

To the editors:

The comments that I made in your Aug. 21 article about UNC-TV are misleading. Because of this, I believe I have done a disservice to my colleagues there. Since the statewide university bond issue involves billions of dollars and will greatly affect the people of North Carolina and their university system, it is highly appropriate for UNC-TV to provide in-depth coverage of this issue. The bond has received extensive coverage statewide by major news organizations (including WUNC-FM) and will continue to until the election in November.

I also miscommunicated WUNC-FM’s approach to coverage of its licensee, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. WUNC-FM strives to cover all major issues affecting the communities we serve. Since the university is a major presence in the state, the station indeed does cover many issues related to our licensee in a balanced way. To ignore issues related to our licensee would be a disservice to our listeners and to the University.

Michael Arnold
Program Director
WUNC-FM, Chapel Hill, N.C.


. To Current's home page
. Earlier news: The article that Volstad and Arnold discuss.

Web page posted Oct. 10, 2000
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