Balance? This Is Public Radio. We Don’t Do Balance.

Screen Shot 2013-06-12 at 5.42.24 PMInge Grafe-Kieklak
Sullivan County, New York, Landowner


WJJF Radio Catskill, a public radio station located in Jeffersonville, New York, exhibited its heavy-handed bias when it took umbrage at even mentioning the good deeds of natural gas companies.  Some attitude for a public community radio station!

Several months ago, I had a talk with the station manager of WJFF radio in Jeffersonville, New York, near where I reside.  I wanted to know why there was not a more balanced approach  to the gas drilling issue.  It all started with a little seven minute discussion, on one of their Saturday Farms and Country shows.  The discussion was about Cabot Oil and Gas and the $1 million dollar matching grant money that gas company gave to help build a new hospital for the Endless Mountains Health Care System, in Montrose, Pennsylvania hospital.  It was part of larger discussion that had nothing to do with natural gas or hydraulic fracturing, and involved only a casual mention of the donation.

This was enough, however, to generate a not so friendly email from the natural gas opposition and a little tempest in a teapot over whether or not it was permissible to say anything positive at all regarding natural gas on WJFF.  I was deeply disappointed with the manner the station manager handled the matter.  He suggested the fill-in host (well known farm radio personality Dave Williams) shouldn’t have said anything about natural gas because “it wasn’t in his contract.” Williams, though didn’t have a contract, and it became quite apparent the manager was more concerned about his board’s reaction than any contract, the station being in a state of turmoil at the time.

Importantly, when I go to the WJFF website and read the mission statement, it says this (emphasis added):

Radio Catskill is a locally owned, independent, non-commercial, member supported, community radio broadcaster and public service provider carrying out a range of educational and charitable activities.  We make available to our community, and from our community, a broad range of ideas and ideals, education, information and entertainment, analysis and inspiration useful to a full and enlightened life.

I am one, with many others, who live in this community and do not believe our voice is heard. I asked for fairer treatment and was told that to have something more balanced (that is pro-gas), I would have to write to the board about it. Now, if there is an issue this important to the community, why do I have to write to the board and request the views from both sides? Can anyone tell me why special permission is needed for balance in reporting at what is supposed to be a public radio station supposedly making “a broad range of ideas and ideals” available to the community?

Or, is it that WJFF Radio Catskill is only for a very special elite segment in the community, one that largely consists of second-home owners and others with their heart in New York City and not here?  Public radio has the potential to be very influential.  Why not be fair!

imagesIt seems, rather, the opposite is the case, with WJFF holding a very biased set of views that can only be described as elitist, where the attitude is “you’re have no right, in this little world I’ve created for myself and my friends, to try to confuse me with the facts.” Indeed, it seems the WJFF crew, both former and current, are more interested in the storyline than the truth.  They don’t do balance because they live in a one-sided universe where the possibility of other dimensions is non-existent.

I told the station manager how divisive the natural gas issue is within the community WJFF serves, because I live it everyday.  I told him that a couple of years ago, one store in town with a pro-gas sign, was told to take it down or go on a black list. I told him nobody ever talks about this.  Wouldn’t this make a good story for a community radio station?  Aren’t we all interested in hearing other opinions?  Like most people in this area, I respect different opinions, and I am very opposed to media manipulation.

Carrying only one side of a story, one that happens to fit my philosophy, when I am a running a public (community) radio station, is unacceptable.  A community is never of one mind and that’s what tells me WJFF isn’t at all about the community where it’s located but, rather, a very privileged and mostly part-time part of the community that would like to substititute its views for the rest of the people who live here.

If you think I’m exaggerating take a look at this Natural Gas Drilling programming guide on the station’s home page:

Screen Shot 2013-06-12 at 4.45.19 PM

See any balance there?  Notice, also, that among the programs listed, is one that continues to air, and is called Trailer Talk.  It is funded by the ever anti-gas Park Foundation for something called the “Marcellus Shale Water Project, a radio series and interactive website focused on the potential impacts of gas drilling in New York.”  Park also funds NPR’s “environmental coverage” and we can easily guess what direction that’s headed.

I used to be a volunteer at WJFF Radio Catskill and my reason for leaving was that I became an outsider with my beliefs.  I did not feel comfortable there because of my different views on the natural gas issue. Doesn’t a public radio station have to be balanced? I hope the board or the stadion can get much more rounded and take a much more inclusive approach to this gas drilling issue and still keep its listeners on board.  Otherwise, I have to wonder just how progressive, open and all inclusive WJFF really is.

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3 thoughts on “Balance? This Is Public Radio. We Don’t Do Balance.

  1. Unless WJFF is funded by a wealthy benefactor, the most likely future for the station is bankruptcy.

    Meanwhile, in the battle for the drilling of natural gas wells in NY, the state is looking as foolish today as it looked a few decades ago when it refused to permit casino gambling while New Jersey went the other way and legalized it.

    How many jobs were created in Atlantic City? Construction jobs, casino jobs, jobs serving the casinos? How many billions of dollars have New Yorkers wagered and left behind in Atlantic City? How many hotel rooms have NYers rented? How many meals have NYers bought?

    And now, NY is close to granting full legalization to casino gambling. After the two racerinos proved themselves.

    What has the development of natural gas done for Pennsylvania? A lot. Revitalizing economies in a lot of towns while providing a commodity that’s in high demand across the country.

    If natural gas development were bad for the environment, you’d think the region where gas is drilled would show evidence. Like dead trees, barren ground, animal skeletons, etc. But, surprise, surprise, the drilling areas are always green and healthy.

  2. Finally a voice of reason and breath of fresh air about a stagnant media cesspool of one-sided “opinionism”. Thank you for sharing and for sticking to your beliefs!

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