Big Brother eyes NPR

Though the year may be 2005, George Orwell’s frightening vision of the future in “1984” is being realized on National Public Radio.

In the novel, Orwell expressed the dangers of totalitarianism and political authority pervading every aspect of life. At the heart of matters was Big Brother, whose purpose was to keep surveillance over the people of London and make sure they do not deviate from the strict codes of the Outer Party. The threat “Big Brother is Watching” – or rather, “listening” – seems fitting when describing a recent decision by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

The CPB, a Republican-dominated group in charge of allocating federal funds for public radio and television, has chosen to elect two ombudsmen to monitor whether programming on NPR is politically balanced.

This decision by the corporation’s president, Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, came after several complaints from the board, including one that NPR had a “leftist” approach to reporting. To any good journalist or responsible person concerned with accuracy, this news would be alarming.

Perhaps the only thing more alarming is Tomlinson’s decision to make the new ombudsmen represent given political perspectives, namely a “liberal” and a “conservative.” NPR’s President Kevin Klose commented in the May 16 edition of the New York Times that ideological ombudsmen missed the point on news. According to the Ombudsman Association’s official ethical code, an ombudsman is supposed to be a “designated neutral” who mediates fair settlements, making the idea of a politically slanted ombudsman almost oxymoronic.

The backgrounds of Tomlinson and his two ombudsmen are equally concerning. Tomlinson and William Schulz, the “conservative,” both worked as writers and editors at the famously conservative Reader’s Digest. In a1968 article about the march on Washington, Schulz showed his true colors by suggesting that the advancement of civil rights fit in with the worldwide communist agenda. Ken Bode, “the liberal,” is an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute. Doesn’t ring a bell? One of his fellow distinguished fellows is none other than the tree-hugging Robert Bork.

NPR presents what is difficult, beautiful and necessary about current events. In a nation dominated by conservative media, NPR is by no means a liberal threat, but stands as one of the last bastions of respected reporting for a large population – one whose rights need protection, not governmental authorization.

Hope for a future separate from the abysmal predictions of George Orwell will come when the government stops interfering with public affairs and media depicting current events. Until then, let us all toast our Victory Gin to our government’s Big Brother looming over our beloved National Public Radio.

Natalie Sept can be reached at [email protected].