Taxpayer-subsidized NPR changes ethics rules to allow journalists to participate as social activists

National Public Radio has implemented a major ethics policy change, now permitting its allegedly objective journalists to participate in social justice activism online and in person, the taxpayer-subsidized broadcaster announced this week.

“NPR rolled out a substantial update to its ethics policy earlier this month, expressly stating that journalists may participate in activities that advocate for ‘the freedom and dignity of human beings’ on both social media and in real life,” wrote Public Editor Kelly McBride.

“The new policy eliminates the blanket prohibition from participating in ‘marches, rallies and public events,’ as well as vague language that directed NPR journalists to avoid personally advocating for ‘controversial’ or ‘polarizing’ issues,” she added.

She went on to note that the public broadcaster first adopted its ethics policy early in the 2000s, but that it had been revised during the 2010-2011 timeframe.

“NPR editorial staff may express support for democratic, civic values that are core to NPR’s work, such as, but not limited to: the freedom and dignity of human beings, the rights of a free and independent press, the right to thrive in society without facing discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, disability, or religion,” the new policy reads.

McBride went on to mention a couple of instances involving left-wing social justice issues as examples.

“Is it OK to march in a demonstration and say, ‘Black lives matter’? What about a Pride parade? In theory, the answer today is, ‘Yes.’ But in practice, NPR journalists will have to discuss specific decisions with their bosses, who in turn will have to ask a lot of questions,” she wrote.

She went on to claim that the “carve-out” for attending protest marches is “narrow.”

Those “organized with the purpose of demanding equal and fair treatment of people are now permitted” as long as the demonstrating NPR journalist isn’t actually covering the event themselves.

Demonstrations that NPR considers off-limits include those “organized to support a specific piece of legislation” and “events featuring a slate of political candidates from one party.” It is less clear if NPR reporters can protest at events not specifically featuring political candidates but which are nonetheless attended by many political candidates and elected leaders.

“Even when NPR journalists can legitimately participate in a civic event, the new policy asks them to consider how their participation will impact their colleagues,” McBride wrote.

“When taking a public stance makes it harder for other NPR journalists to do their jobs, there is an expectation that the journalism will take precedence,” she added.

“Our goal was to make NPR a place that employees felt they could be themselves at work, and they wouldn’t have to be one version of themselves outside of work and another version at work,” said Alex Goldmark, senior supervising producer for Planet Money, an NPR-produced podcast focused on economic issues.

The new guidance earned no small amount of scorn and derision on social media.

“NPR is an advocacy group of the most luxuriously educated elites and no longer news or public interest,” one user wrote on Twitter.

“Excellent! So like pro-life rallies, right? … … … right?” another wrote.

Warning: Strong language

“So more left-leaning bias to come from these taxpayers funded motherf**kers?” said another user.

Jon Dougherty

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