A story that appeared in SFR last summer is still making waves. A recent report from the ombudsman at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting says a former radio station manager in Arizona appears to have refused to air a version of the story because of conflict of interest.
Freelance reporter Claudine LoMonaco's story "Up in Smoke" was first set to be broadcast on KNAU public radio based at Northern Arizona University, but then-manager John Stark killed the series. A source who had been interviewed for the story—which explored the awarding of a $280 million contract for a US Forest Service fuels reduction initiative—inquired about the decision and later filed a complaint with the center.
Stark, who told the ombudsman that he killed the story because as an "editorial decision," learned a few days later that the company that had received the contract was making a donation to a Northern Arizona University researcher with ties to the firm. He maintains the two events are unrelated.
But ombudsman at the center called the decision to kill the story "a black mark on the radio station's history," and wrote in March 4 report that the station had a major conflict of interest and should have "taken extraordinary efforts to insure that nothing compromised its objectivity or willingness to pursue the story....Public broadcasters often have the same potential for conflicts as commercial broadcasters, who must guard against allowing advertisers to influence their news judgments."
As for LoMonaco's piece in SFR, the ombudsman wrote "I can say that it was reported fairly and completely, and she presented all sides to the story."