NPR 'Listener Advocate' Tells Complaining Listeners They Don't Have 'Free Speech Values'

NPR ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos addressed the issue of bias, but only on whether NPR should accept “enhanced underwriting” – commercials – from Al-Jazeera America. The advocate for the listeners told them they don't have "free speech values."

He basically said critics of the network are destroyers of free speech, and should stop complaining: “Whether NPR should even accept the sponsorship from Al Jazeera is a separate matter of management policy that is outside my purview. But I do have a vital interest in anything that restricts free speech, and this essentially is what the complaining listeners want to do.” The question of an anti-American bias is irrelevant:

“Questions of bias or independence are irrelevant when it comes to whether NPR should accept sponsorship or cable networks should carry the new network. Many news outlets have a bias,”he wrote. (I’ll say.) “What matters is whether Al Jazeera America’s falls within the acceptable boundaries of decency and free speech, and clearly it does.”

“We should in fact welcome that Al Jazeera might bring a more global view into our living rooms, if only to better know what others are thinking,” the ombudsman added. “Al Jazeera America, after one month on the air, has so far proven itself to be straightforward in its news presentation, perhaps more even than its CNN, Fox and MSNBC competitors. The network has set out to be more like the BBC or the early CNN, with lots and lots of real news.”

He even claimed "Al Jazeera's Arabic service is not anti-American, best I can tell from former students of mine who work there and other Arabic speakers I trust. But whether the coverage is anti-American is irrelevant in our free society...We should not be afraid of these many new voices. Democracy does quite well in Europe, Japan and other parts of the world where the news media has long been identified with ideological, party or individual points of view. American news networks such as CNN are present on cable channels in the rest of the world, including, specifically, Qatar. What counts for American democracy is that we uphold our free speech values and let the best ideas win in the marketplace of open debate."

The big question that remains is how our "free speech values" are represented by offering government subsidies to a network that thinks the idea of offering its airwaves to conservatives is offensive. And NPR employees should be the last to discuss a "marketplace of open debate," since they have an enormous government-boosted advantage over competitors.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis