CPB Office of the Ombudsman

WRKF Revisited

Joel Kaplan

February 7, 2014

Back last summer, I wrote about Baton Rouge community activist Charles Bethley's complaints concerning WRFK.

Mr. Bethley's complaint centered around an assertion that WRKF was conservatively biased and that his calls into The Jim Engster Show were being unfairly blocked.

At the time, David Gordon, the WRKF general manager, acknowledged that Mr. Engster generally abided by a two-call limit per week even though there were no formal written guidelines about how listener calls should be handled.

I recommended that if the station wanted to enact a two call per week guideline or to pre-screen the calls (another of Mr. Bethley's complaints) then it should post those on its website.

And, in fact, that is what The Jim Engster Show has done. Now posted on its website is this:

Please note that the host can't always get to all of your calls or emails. Be specific about your question or comment, those details help the host fit your call or email into the program. Questions and comments may be prioritized to provide the listeners a variety of viewpoints and keep the conversation going. Because of the heavy volume of calls and the goal to feature as many voices from the community as possible, there is a two-call limit per week to the show.

Nevertheless, Mr. Bethley called into the Corporation for Public Broadcasting last fall complaining that during a conversation with former Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein, he was kept on hold for 46 minutes while Mr. Engster took three other calls. He said it was the first time he called that week.

Mr. Engster had a ready defense:

We went the full hour with Carl Bernstein, the legendary reporter who was in studio. Because of the give and take between the guest and host, we took only three calls. At the end of the show, all available lines were on hold. I checked my list of listeners who called that day, and Charles was on the list. He was not the only person to be on hold for several minutes and not get on air.

I can assure you that no caller has been singled out for omission, and Charles Bethley has been featured on the program more than any other listener this year.

Last week Mr. Bethley reiterated his complaint that WRKF "has become a conservative outlet under the public radio banner for local news and issues."

He also suggested that public radio should do more to address the needs of people of color.

Still, I see the guidelines established by The Jim Engster Show to be fair and reasonable and that Mr. Bethley should not expect to be able to always have his phone call answered.

That said, I admire his perseverance and urge him to continue to have his voice heard.

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