Missouri lawmakers upset by ban of TV newscasters’ patriotism

Associated Press
Tuesday October 02, 2001

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — State lawmakers were upset about a ban of on-air displays of patriotic symbols by newscasters at a TV station owned by the University of Missouri-Columbia. 

The legislators pledged to sharply scrutinize future university budget requests after seeing e-mail by KOMU-TV News Director Stacey Woelfel that said: “Leave the ribbons at home when reporting or anchoring for KOMU News.” 

He said Sept. 27 the policy is a matter of journalistic ethics, to demonstrate to the NBC affiliate’s viewers “that in no way are we influenced by the government in informing the public.” 

Staffers include scores of journalism students for whom the KOMU newsroom is a working laboratory. And since KOMU is in the unusual circumstance of being a commercial television station owned by a taxpayer-supported university, some of the newsroom instructors receive part of their salaries from state funds. 

Woelfel said in an interview that KOMU’s status as a government-owned station made it all the more important to let viewers know its news reports are “free from government influence.” 

The station competes in the Columbia-Jefferson City market against ABC and CBS affiliates, which said their newsrooms have imposed no similar policy. 

State Rep. Matt Bartle said “the state-owned TV station should not unconstitutionally violate the free speech rights of its employees,” but he doubted legislative budget actions would have an effect on the policy because KOMU doesn’t rely on state funds for its operations. 

The KOMU debate is part of a national discussion among journalists about whether flag displays during an intense period of grief and patriotism are consistent with trying to appear objective on stories.