Arizona Public Media (AZPM) is aware of the questions raised about the “Pension Peril” program segments, produced by WNET/New York with funding provided by The Laura and John Arnold Foundation. One or more stories from the series were included by WNET in the PBS NewsHour Weekend program that they produce for PBS, and which is broadcast on Saturday at 7pm and Sunday at 6pm on our own PBS 6.
AZPM works hard to maintain its editorial independence and the trust of its audiences and is staunchly committed to uncompromising journalistic standards. A copy of AZPM’s Editorial Standards and Policies can be found here.
For AZPM and for all of public media, it is important to ensure that funders do not influence editorial decisions in the programs they support. We have been assured by our colleagues at WNET that there has not been any improper editorial influence in this case. Even so, the issue of a perceived conflict of interest concerned us and we communicated that to WNET and PBS.
PBS and WNET/New York issued a joint statement late last week in response to the issues raised.
WNET AND PBS STATEMENT
“Over the past few days, PBS and WNET have been in close consultation regarding the funding for Pension Peril, a WNET initiative that aired in part on the PBS NewsHour Weekend; it looked at the critical issue of the economic sustainability of public pensions. These segments were funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, one of the largest philanthropic organizations in the country, which has interests in many areas including criminal justice, K-12 education and public accountability.
Concerns have been raised about the funding of these segments because pension reform is one area of focus for the Arnold Foundation. While PBS stands by WNET’s reporting in this series, in order to eliminate any perception on the part of the public, our viewers, and donors that the Foundation’s interests influenced the editorial integrity of the reporting for this program, WNET has decided to forgo the Arnold Foundation support and will return the gift.
“We made a mistake, pure and simple,” said Stephen Segaller, Vice President of Programming at WNET. “The PBS NewsHour Weekend is a new production and while we thought we were following the guidelines and the correct vetting processes, we were incorrect. WNET sought the Arnold Foundation funding because of our belief that public pensions is an important issue. The Arnold Foundation did not direct or prescribe our reporting, never attempted to do so, and is not responsible for our mistake.”
WNET believes that the topic of public pensions is a matter of journalistic importance and will continue to report on it as it has in the past.
PBS and WNET are grateful for the support of the foundations, corporations and individual members of public television stations that together make our mission-driven service possible. With the help of our many stakeholders, we look forward to continuing to provide the public with outstanding content found nowhere else in American media.”
Our view is that while the Laura and John Arnold Foundation was listed as a funder of PBS NewsHour Weekend, WNET should have also more clearly disclosed the foundation’s specific funding of the “Pension Peril” series. As indicated in the statement above, WNET acknowledges the error and has returned the funds to the Arnold Foundation.