CPB Office of the Ombudsman

Gun Control and KXJZ

Joel Kaplan

June 26, 2013

Paul Schecter spent about 30 years as a big rig truck driver across Northern California.

As such, he got into the habit of listening to public radio station KXJZ. He's been retired for about eight years now so doesn't listen to KXJZ as much as he used to, but still dials in occasionally.

Recently he was listening to a show on KXJZ, Insight, when a high school student read her winning essay on gun control as part of a contest sponsored by Physicians for Social Responsibility.

"She was able to advocate for gun control and they had a public health officials [sic] also pushing the same advocacy," Mr. Schecter said. "The information presented was uninformed, inaccurate, biased, ignorant and did not present the issue in a way a person could grasp. It's not simply that they were presenting a one-sided view. They were presenting it inaccurately."

Mr. Schecter has strong opinions on gun ownership. He said that his Jewish background has given him strong opinion about "never again". "I like to go to gun shows and I advocate for guns," he said. "I've been a shooter since I've been young though I'm not a hunter. I don't like killing animals."

Jen Picard, senior producer for Insight, agrees with Mr. Schecter complaint about the segment.

"I do think he is right in that the segment was unbalanced," she said. "But there's no bias on the part of the show. The segment was set up as an essay contest, not as an essay on gun control. There was no bias in the segment, but the balance did get away from us and that's something that can happen in a live show."

Mr. Schecter apparently was not the only person upset about the show.

"We did receive a few others that wrote in about the segment being unbalanced," Ms. Picard said. "I did listen back on the segment and it was definitely unbalanced. But I've looked back on the past coverage on this issue and I think it's been pretty balanced."

While Mr. Schecter says he has no problem with people making their case and sharing their views, he believes that the facts that are used should be accurate. He also wants advocates to identify themselves and for the station to present other points of view.

He doesn't believe he is getting satisfaction from Ms. Picard.

"Jen asked me to call her and we had a nice conversation," he said. "She asked me to call her back with other sources and point of view and she would not answer the phone for a month or two. I left messages on her cell and office phone, and she would not return my calls.

"I know a lot of people beyond the usual NRA types. I called her back to give her that information and she would not return my calls."

For her part, Ms. Picard said that she has spoken to Mr. Schecter about a dozen times on the phone.

"He's very interested in gun control laws and once we talked on the phone for almost two hours about a segment that we had run on the statistics of gun control legislation and how effective it is," she said. "He thought the segment was unbalanced but it turned out that he had missed the beginning of the segment. Once he listened to the entire segment he agreed that it was balanced."

Gun control, like other hot-button issues such as abortion and immigration, has listeners on both sides who often feel that their side is given short shrift.

It is incumbent on public media to make sure that all sides of such controversial issues are provided. Sometimes, individual segments might not provide the proper balance but public media outlets should make sure that overall, such balance is attained.

In this case, Ms. Picard acknowledges that the specific segment Mr. Schecter complained about was not balanced. She attributes that to the fact that it was a live show and involved the winner of an essay contest.

But Ms. Picard and Insight should have recognized that an essay contest run by an organization like Physicians for Social Responsibility would have a very specific point of view. The station should have made sure that a contrary point of view was available or should have eschewed running a segment about the essay winner.

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