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NPR to Disclose Position On Network Neutrality

WASHINGTON — NPR will start disclosing in its stories about the Federal Communications Commission’s network-neutrality proceeding that the public radio outlet has filed comments with the agency taking a position on the issue, Mark Memmott, NPR’s senior editor for standards and practices, said. That position is in opposition to the FCC’s proposal and most ISPs’ stance.

The news outlet has provided plenty of coverage of the network neutrality debate and the arguments being made on both sides, down to the level of extended comment deadlines; metaphors used in the debate; where the comments were coming from, geographically; and why many of the comments would fall on deaf ears because they were brief statements from private individuals who did not have the supporting analysis and research that large corporations pay for.

But since July 15, what none of the stories and blogs about the issue told readers and listeners was that NPR had been one of those commenters, with a strongly held opinion on one side of the argument.

Memmott said that when NPR realized its mistake, it moved quickly to correct it. “Usually legal is good about giving the newsroom a heads up or we are good about it, in obvious cases, asking, ‘Hey, have we filed any public comments on this?’ In this case, we just didn’t.”

In comments dated July 15, NPR came out strongly against FCC chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal to use a commercially reasonable standard for paid priority, saying the chairman’s proposal would allow ISPs to profit from manipulating Internet access, and calling that position “profoundly mistaken,” and not just from a theoretical standpoint.

“Allowing paid-priority access to the Internet directly threatens the public service mission of NPR, other public radio producers and distributors, public radio stations and other public-media edge providers,” NPR said in comments filed by a team of NPR lawyers and citing supporting analysis including a PriceWaterhouseCoopers study and its own research on noncom Web platforms.

Memmott said he tweeted the following two weeks ago when he realized the legal department had weighed in at the FCC: “NPR legal counsel’s comments about FCC’s net neutrality proposal are here: The NPR newsroom, of course, is neutral.”

Memmott also told Multichannel News that going forward, the net-neutrality stories would carry a disclosure, though NPR will not retroactively label the stories that came out after July 15.

“No, that would seem like overkill to me,” he said.