Thursday, October 28, 2010
L'Affaire Juan Williams as Seen from Outside
I was part of an interview program about whether journalists should be allowed to express opinions last weekend on BBC Radio's Newshour. Seth Lipsky from the Wall Street Journal was also part of the discussion. Lipsky has written that NPR and indeed all public broadcasting deserve to be defunded since, in his opinion, government funds deform the journalistic landscape.
I think that's highly questionable, but we did agree that news organizations have the right to ask their journalists to refrain from personal comments. Mr. Lipsky as an editorialist and opinion leader, has a somewhat broader view of what's allowable than I do.
The program came just a few days after the BBC World Service broadcast a phone-in show about prospective cuts to the BBC. The program, called "World - Have Your Say" took calls from around the world with listeners begging the BBC not to reduce its service.
The in-studio guest from BBC management assured anxious listeners that the BBC is so admired because it takes no position on matters of public controversy. It tries, he explained, to explore the issues rather than take sides. That may be a highly subjective viewpoint, but at least, it's an official one.
And the CBC's Washington correspondent Neil MacDonald has offered his perspective here.
He states that Juan Williams deserved to be fired when he placed NPR in an embarrassing situation by expressing an anti-Muslim bias. (Juan backtracked somewhat, but the damage was done and the fallout from his dismissal is still causing ructions in and around the public radio community in this volatile pre-election period).
By way of explanation, Neil MacDonald - it must be said - is no management toady and hardly a stranger to controversy of a particular kind. His reporting from the Middle East and from Ottawa has been robust, to say the least. MacDonald usually bases his conclusions on the evidence, even if some viewers may find his perspectives to be highly flammable or at the very least, contrarian.
So his analysis on Juan Williams and NPR is a bit counter-intuitive. His take (and mine) is that if you take the King's shilling, some limitations invariably come with that, including a limit on one's own freedom to speak your mind.