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Jewish Journal

New Standards for Fair Coverage at NPR

by Kevin Klose

August 14, 2003 | 8:00 pm

As the world turns its focus once again to events in the Middle East, this is an opportune time for National Public Radio (NPR) and all media outlets to examine the way in which we cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to talk to our listeners about the steps we take to ensure objective and accurate coverage.

Like most leading American media outlets, NPR's coverage of the Middle East is closely scrutinized by listeners across the political spectrum. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is one of the most emotionally charged subjects in the world today, and we recognize that our coverage will never please all people, all of the time -- nor should that be our goal. Our goal should be to produce the most comprehensive, balanced and accurate reporting on this difficult matter, a goal we strive toward with each story.

As a primary source of news for almost 21 million Americans each week, NPR News works tirelessly to adhere to stringent standards of excellence in all our news reporting, including coverage of the Middle East. NPR has earned every major award for American journalism, including 41 George Foster Peabody and 18 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University awards. Recently, our seven-part series, "The Mideast: A Century of Conflict," received the Overseas Press Club Award and the National Headliner Award for distinguished reporting.

NPR, a listener-supported network, seeks transparency and values feedback from our listeners and our member stations. We are proud of our reporting, but we also recognize that no news organization is perfect. And, as with any organization, we are constantly working to improve our reporting and to communicate more openly with our listeners.

Toward that end, NPR has undertaken a number of initiatives as part of an ongoing effort to help our listeners understand our reporting, as well as to help NPR understand the ideas and thoughts of our listeners. Some of these initiatives are already under way, while others are currently being implemented.

First, NPR has developed a document titled, "Middle East Reporting Guidelines," which establishes standards for our coverage and terminology. The guidelines are a blueprint for our reporters and editors; they explicitly discuss the way NPR sources and attributes events and people, the manner in which we lead into reports ("intros"), the language we use when questioning interviewees, the balance of commentaries between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian voices and the terminology we use when reporting on this very complex topic.

We encourage listeners and all interested parties to read these guidelines on our Web site (www.npr.org).

Second, for listeners to have an informed opinion on our coverage, it is important that they have access to all of NPR's stories in their entirety. That's why we post on our Web site all stories dealing with conflict in the Middle East. These stories show that our coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is unique in its comprehensiveness and scope.

Third, NPR has begun conducting formal self-assessments of our Middle East coverage every six months. The purpose of these self-assessments is to help us evaluate and improve our coverage.

In our most recent report, we found that in 60 Middle East-related pieces that aired on NPR in the first three months of 2003, Israeli voices were heard 65 times and Palestinians (and other Arabs) were heard 49 times. In addition, Israelis were quoted (but no tape played) 61 times and Palestinians (or Arabs) were quoted 57 times. Self-assessments will continue regularly and will be posted on our Web site.

Fourth, we have added a section to our Web site that allows listeners to submit story ideas on the Middle East. While there is no guarantee that these will result in news stories, this Web page provides an additional avenue for listeners to present their own ideas on potential Middle East stories.

Fifth, NPR employs the nation's only radio network ombudsman, Jeffrey Dvorkin, as the listeners' advocate. A veteran news director, Dvorkin receives more than 45,000 inquiries annually about our coverage. Approximately half of them express a broad range of opinions on our Middle East coverage.

As our ombudsman, Dvorkin is an independent voice, free to evaluate and critique our reporting as he deems appropriate. His columns, including his independent evaluations of NPR reporting, can be found on our Web site.

Sixth, NPR executives have met with numerous representatives from both the Jewish and Arab American communities during the past several months to better comprehend the diverse perspectives about the Middle East conflict. We will continue this outreach effort to community leaders and will hold regularly scheduled meetings in our corporate headquarters in Washington, D.C., and around the country.

Additionally, I have personally traveled to Israel and made more than 40 trips across the United States to meet with listeners and discuss the rigorous standards of our internal editorial practices.

Seventh, NPR is currently organizing a series of symposiums in major cities across the nation to create an open dialogue on the issues of accuracy, fairness and balance in reporting on highly emotional and contentious topics, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Participants will include NPR News representatives, our member stations, journalists and academics.

We are dedicated to increased transparency and communication between NPR and listeners. Honest and open dialogue is a cherished right and the cornerstone for a thriving and vital democracy. I can personally assure you NPR will always take that first step toward opening the doors of communication, and we will continue to live up to the high journalistic standards we set for ourselves as a news-gathering organization.

Kevin Klose is president and chief executive officer of NPR. Prior to joining NPR in 1998, Klose was an editor and national and foreign correspondent for the Washington Post. He has also served as director of U.S. International Broadcasting, overseeing the U.S. government's global radio and television news services, and as president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

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