WDUQ, Duquesne University draw flak on ad ban

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Duquesne University and public station WDUQ-FM are getting static over last week's controversial decision to pull public service ads underwritten by Planned Parenthood.

Duquesne ordered WDUQ (90.5) to stop airing a series of underwritten messages from the reproductive rights and health-care education group, saying that Planned Parenthood isn't aligned with the university's Catholic mission and that the station isn't required to accept donations.

The series of ads promoted prevention, including health screenings and education.

Public opinion over the university's move is divided along the same lines as the underlying issues: Some support the university's pro-life mission, while others are alarmed that a public radio news station would have to withhold something from its airwaves for political or religious reasons. Duquesne University holds the license for WDUQ, which is the local National Public Radio affiliate.

The timing couldn't have been worse for the station, which is in the middle of its fall fund-raiser.

"It's been admittedly much lower in response than normal for a fall fund-raiser," said Scott Hanley, the station's director and general manager. "The drive started off very well. We're not too far behind where we typically would be, but we're concerned that the controversy is distracting from the fact that the station still relies on contributions."

Of more concern, he said, is that callers have expressed concerns that the station's editorial integrity is compromised. "That's not the case." He noted that the station was the first to air a news story about the rejected public service announcements. "I hope people see that as an indication of the integrity of our news operations."

Hanley said that both the radio station and the journalism department at Duquesne were founded in the 1940s with "the intent to be catholic with a small 'c' -- open to ideas and to serving the whole community."

Rejecting an underwriting campaign isn't without precedent, he said. Alaska public stations turned down underwriting from Exxon after the 1989 Valdez oil spill.

But the flap also has brought some donors forward, he said. "A few have called and thanked us for taking a stand they support."

WPTT-AM (1360) liberal talk host Lynn Cullen voiced the opinion of many who oppose the university's move on her show yesterday, and said the phone lines lit up when she brought the topic up.

"I heard from a lot of people like myself who have always supported public radio and who will no longer do so until this is remedied, or until DUQ surrenders the license to some other entity that will deal with it in a more responsible manner," Cullen said. "I feel sorry for the station. But I can no longer support them."

On Friday, state Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill, called on Duquesne to reverse its decision and to respect the station's editorial independence. He stressed that he's not advocating that people withhold pledge support from the station.

Rep. Frankel said he has been getting calls and e-mails from constituents. "There is a great deal of concern out there [about] the ability of a public radio station to be independent, not only in dealing with sponsors, but also in the way it reports the news."

Adrian McCoy can be reached at amccoy@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1865.


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