Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Are PBS's Editorial Standards voluntary or compulsory? The answer may hinge on Halle Berry's "Heimlich denial"


In a June 16 story published on the PBS NewsHour's website, Howard Markel MD, a prominent professor of medical history at the University of Michigan, claimed Hollywood star Halle Berry was saved from choking by the Heimlich maneuver.

But in an August 14 Hollywood Reporter article, Ms. Berry denied the claim.


So on August 20, I e-mailed a corrections request to the NewsHour's managing editor, Judy Woodruff.

My request also asked Ms. Woodruff to address other factual errors in Dr. Markel's story and to review the reporting and editing of his article. (Details via see my August 21 item, What do a prominent medical historian/author, the PBS ombudsman, and actress Halle Berry have in common? My NewsHour corrections request saga!)

Despite multiple courtesy follow-up e-mails (to which I received confirmations of receipt from Ms. Woodruff) and a couple of voice messages I left for her assistant, I've never received a reply to my inquiry.


Via PBS's published Editorial Standards and Policies, here's where this gets interesting:
The honesty and integrity of informational content depends heavily upon its factual accuracy. Every effort must be made to assure that content is presented accurately and in context. Programs, Digital Content,and other content containing editorials, analysis, commentary, and points of view must be held to the same standards of factual accuracy as news reports. A commitment to accuracy and transparency requires the correction of inaccuracies and errors in a public and visible manner. These principles also require that PBS, Stations and Producers actively respond to feedback and questions from audiences.
Nice words, but are they voluntary or compulsory?


Last week I e-mailed that question to PBS's media relations department and got this response from Jan McNamara, Sr. Director and Sr. Strategist of Corporate Communications at the network:
Can you provide some context for your question?
I'm not sure why context matters, but I appreciated her reply, so I sent Ms. McNamara the detailed e-mail embedded below. (Click here to download a copy.)

Here's what I asked.
Are PBS's Editorial Standards and Policies voluntary or compulsory for PBS employees?

If they're compulsory, what's the name and job title of the employee responsible for enforcing them?

If they're voluntary, this is to request that PBS publish that information in the guidelines and on the network's website.
As I wrote to Ms. McNamara, I take this matter seriously, so I copied PBS Board chairman Donald A. Baer, PBS President/CEO Paula A. Kerger, and, because PBS receives tax dollars -- about $25 million according to the organization's most recent IRS return -- my congressman, Rob Woodall (GA-7th District).