Pressured From the Right While Still Hated by Fans of “Left of the Dial.” Georgia’s State-run Public Broadcaster Faces More Uncertainties as the State’s Politics Change.
Lawmakers in Georgia’s Republican-controlled state Senate tried to cut nearly half a million dollars from Georgia Public Broadcasting’s state funding because “some members of the Senate are not happy with some of our content, but mostly on the NPR radio side” according to emails from GPB’s CEO Teya Ryan to the Gov.’s office obtained through an Open Records Request.
Ryan, first appointed in 2009 after Georgia had turned solidly red, went on to say “I get that it is a fine line, that some members are unhappy with the perceived “liberal” bent of NPR. I work very hard to counteract this. But cutting state money will not solve that problem. I have other ideas that might help.”
Budget documents found on the State Senate’s website confirm the cut with the note “Reduce funds to reflect realignment of focus on K-12 educational programming during COVID-19 pandemic.”
The cuts were restored in conference committee and the state’s final budget ultimately made no changes to GPB’s state funding, but the “swipe” at GPB shows the ongoing political pressure the network faces.
Under Ryan, GPB agreed to hire the state’s Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers upon the urging of then Gov. Nathan Deal.
Georgia was in the national spotlight throughout the 2020 election and especially in the months thereafter with recounts, election challenges, run-offs that flipped control of the U.S. Senate, and a state legislative session that included controversial voting bills.
NPR covered Georgia often while partnering with reporters from GPB and WABE, Atlanta’s longtime NPR affiliate which is not part of the state-run network.
The famous phone recording of President Trump’s call to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger was first reported by the Washington Post but also leaked to a GPB reporter and aired nationally on NPR’s All Things Considered.
NPR Public Editor Kelly McBride wrote a piece praising the GPB reporter and NPR’s partnership with affiliates:
I critiqued the piece for failing to address longstanding ethical issues at GPB including past political interference.
2021 profiles in courage by NPR and GPB for ultimately standing up to President Trump need to be tempered by their past unwillingness to stand up to old school Boss Hogg cronyism.
Meanwhile, many Republicans in the State Senate were active in contesting the election results and made appearances on the Steve Bannon (no relation!) — allied John Fredericks Radio Network.
Mr. Fredericks moved his Virginia talk show to Georgia throughout Nov. and Dec. and obtained an Atlanta radio station that now airs his own and Steve Bannon’s shows plus a show hosted by former Georgia Congressman Doug Collins — a Trump favorite.
My interest in scandals at GPB stemmed from its controversial 2014 takeover of daytime control of Georgia State University’s iconic college radio station WRAS.
“The Agreement” was made without student input and brought GPB into direct competition with WABE. WABE’s broadcast license is held by the Atlanta Public Schools and there is an Atlanta vs. the state dynamic to its interactions with GPB.
Unanswered questions about the 2014 agreement are resurfacing as a former CNN journalist turned graduate student has been producing a radio history of WRAS on its 50th anniversary.
Neither GSU nor GPB leaders would participate.
Last Wed. the Atlanta Press Club hosted a Zoom event about WRAS at 50 moderated by the AJC’s media reporter Rodney Ho.
I’ve long accused the AJC of being complicit in GPB’s takeover of WRAS.
The Press Club event was mostly celebratory focusing on the music and positive personal experiences of some Album 88 alum, and Mr. Ho framed it in anticipation of the 100th anniversary of radio in Atlanta next year — the centenary of Cox Media’s WSB.
The GPB takeover was touched on with former Creative Loafing music editor Chad Radford noting how negative it made him feel about the public broadcaster. “I used to donate to them.”
Listener questions were allowed, but nobody dug too deeply into the unanswered questions, conflicts of interest, or GPB’s financial losses since the takeover.
GPB is a Gold Sponsor of the Atlanta Press Club and hosts many of its candidate debates.
Once the livestream ended, the zoom meeting, which I was phoned into, continued unbeknownst (?) to the host and those panelists who hadn’t logged off yet.
Mr. Ho opened the after-talk by joking “I hope we didn’t torture GPB too badly.”
Another speaker expressed relief about not getting more questions about GPB.
They agreed that a real discussion of GPB would have to take place “off the record” and “after several drinks.”
I wasn’t the only one to hear the open mic, so I tweeted out my makeshift transcript including the description of Teya Ryan as a “fascinating character.”
I also retweeted WNYC’s article about the firing of On the Media host Bob Garfield which was reported by journalists from WBUR.
I suggested maybe NPR should ask WBUR to report on workplace issues at GPB since Atlanta journalists all seem too threatened to dig deeper.
“The Troubles” at WNYC received some new reporting by the New York Times’s media columnist Ben Smith last night.
There are some ties between WNYC and GPB as well as significant differences — resources, unionization, the politics of the area.
Separately, I’ve been researching the vacancies and eligibility of members of GPB’s board, the Georgia Public Telecommunications Commission.
By law, it’s the Commission that appoints GPB’s Executive Director. But if there are multiple vacancies, that means Gov. Kemp will have to pack the Commission with his own appointees, whether he wants to or not, ahead of his reelection.
The 2022 Georgia Governor’s race and other campaigns will likely have national prominence, especially if Democrat Stacey Abrams decides to run again.
How GPB and NPR cover the race, and other issues, will be open to partisan complaints and suspicion.
I’ve long hoped a national or independent media reporter with more skills and resources would take up the GPB story, since it remains this elephant in the room surrounding Georgia politics and media that none of the gatekeepers seem willing to fully address.
My concern is that it’s not just wanting to protect friends and colleagues from embarrassment but fear of reprisals, threats, and intimidation.