Journalistic independence of Miami station at risk

February 21, 2017 12:15

By Mike Cavender, RTDNA Executive Director
At a time when a free and unfettered news media is more important than ever, a proposed policy change by the Miami-Dade County School Board demands rejection. The board is the licensee of WLRN, the public radio and television outlet in South Florida—a station known for its aggressive news coverage and national awards for its reporting.

The board is considering a move to require 19 WLRN reporters and editors, now employed by an independent nonprofit, to reapply for their jobs; only this time, those jobs would be under the direct control and supervision of the school district itself. RTDNA believes such a move would immediately open the door to potential conflicts over coverage, something the news department is protected against now under the current operating structure.

Dwight Hill, chairman of Friends of WLRN, the fundraising arm of the station and the organization which funds the news operation, told the Miami Herald that he’s concerned about the potential change.

“How would these journalists be able to do their job independently if they’re reporting directly to the school board administration?” Hill told the paper in an article published Feb. 19. “I’m concerned we’ll lose our donor base and support from the broader community if this just becomes a regurgitation of the school board and administration agenda.”

A school board spokesperson downplayed those concerns, saying the board has no desire to impact the news department’s integrity and independence. But Daisy Gonzalez-Diego said the board has issues with the Friends organization in terms of its transparency and operating policies and the change is warranted, since the school board holds the station licenses and is ultimately responsible for all its programming.

One school board member is also a member of the board of Friends of WLRN, and two school board members plus the school district’s communications director are members of WLRN’s Community Advisory Board.

RTDNA strongly supports the independent firewall which has been created to prevent influence by the board into WLRN’s news decisions.  If there are conflicts between the two sides, they should be resolved individually, but not through a wholesale change in operating policies.  

The South Florida community deserves continued access to this independent, non-biased source of news and information—something it may lose, if even subtly, through this change.  The journalists of WLRN have proven themselves credible and determined to seek and report truth in their community and RTDNA believes it is imperative they be allowed to continue to do so.
(Disclosure: WLRN News Director Terence Shepherd is also a Regional Director of RTDNA)