Friday, November 12, 2004

Radio Station Bars the Term, 'Reproductive Rights'

NC Public Radio Station Bars Use Of Phrase 'Reproductive Rights'
POSTED: 1:49 pm EST November 11, 2004

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- There's a big difference between reproductive rights
and reproductive health, says the head of a group forced to substitute one
word for the other in an underwriting announcement on a local radio station.
WUNC-FM recently informed Chapel Hill-based Ipas that use of the phrase
"reproductive rights" in the group's on-air underwriting announcement could
be interpreted as advocating a particular political position.
The station required Ipas, an international women's rights and health
organization, to use "reproductive health" instead.
Ipas' executive vice president, Anu Kumar, said she disagreed with WUNC's
interpretation and said the words don't mean the same thing. But she said
she was less upset about WUNC's decision than with the political climate
that led to it.
"What concerns me is the chilling effect of the world we're living in, which
makes everybody super-cautious about what they say," she said. "The issue of
reproductive rights, like many others, has been cast as an `either you're
with us or you're against us' issue, and so much of the language is assumed
to be code for something else."
WUNC's general manager said the station made the change to avoid trouble
with the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC prohibits public radio
stations from airing underwriting announcements that advocate political,
social or religious causes.
"We can accept sponsorships and make announcements from advocacy groups, but
we can't use advocacy language," said general manager Joan Siefert Rose.
"Unfortunately, the FCC doesn't specify what that is. There's no list of
forbidden terms. The only way to find out if you've stepped over the line is
if someone challenges it and the FCC issues a fine. So we are always pretty
conservative in interpreting the announcements we make."
Kumar said the original phrase has an internationally understood meaning
that better conveys the scope of the organization's work.
"`Reproductive rights' is not a euphemism for abortion," Kumar said. "Among
other things, it means the right to infertility treatments, the right to
contraception, the right to information, the right to live free of rape and
violence. In global forums, those meanings are universally understood. And
`reproductive health' doesn't convey all of that. It's important to say that
our work is about rights as well as health."
Rose said the red-flagging of the phrase in Ipas' announcement came as part
of a routine review of underwriting announcements. She said she planned to
meet with Kumar to discuss the issue and try to reach a resolution that
would satisfy everyone involved.
"I have a duty to be a good steward of our FCC license, and we go over the
underwriting announcements with all of our sponsors," Rose said. "Almost
always, there's some language that needs to be changed for various reasons.
And in just about all the cases, we find a way to do that in a way that's
mutually acceptable."