Sinclair Broadcast Group, which took much heat this week for what it calls a "corporate news journalistic responsibility promotional campaign," has apparently punished one critic by yanking a $25K donation that it made to the National Press Photographers Assn.'s legal advocacy program after the group criticized the broadcaster's policy of requiring local anchors to mouth "scripted news" cooked up at its Hunt Valley (MD) headquarters.
How petty and vindictive!
Sinclair's decision is not a move that champions free speech rights, which should be a priority of all broadcasters. It's a bid to muzzle critics.
In its April 4 statement, NPPA noted that Sinclair "has drawn attention and scrutiny for editorial opinions and public comments in which a wide swath of the journalism industry has been accused of extreme bias."
Calling on-air talent "the trusted faces of news departments," NPPA said using those staffers for corporate messaging purposes "could be construed as an affront to widely-held journalistic standards."
It urged Sinclair and all media companies to be careful when criticizing the work of other journalists. "It has the power to be constructive and lift up our industry, or destructive, further eroding the public's trust in us," said the statement issued by NPPA's board.
The press photographers' group even posted a response to its statement from Scott Livingston, Sinclair's senior VP for news, who said the messaging "reinforces our commitment to objective and fair storytelling." He added, "The script reinforces what we stand for – we stand for objective, fair reporting."
Livingston's statement wasn't enough for Sinclair's top brass.
The company pulled its cash less than 24 hours after NPPA's original statement that it made "in the interest of promoting important conversations about journalism ethics, and the work of dedicated and brave journalists across the country and around the world."
Though disappointed by Sinclair's funding cut, NPPA said it "will not be deterred from our commitment to our Code of Ethics, and we will not be deterred from our commitment to advocating for First Amendment, copyright, and other important issues in the year ahead."
Kudos to the NPAA.
Thin-skinned Sinclair's decision to pull $25K, which is chump change for the nation's largest broadcasting outfit, is tone-deaf PR and not a very smart move by a company that is already receiving a lot of flak over its $3.9B takeover bid of Tribune Media from those who worry about media consolidation.
It should think about getting some crisis PR help.