In making a decision to withdraw its financial support from WUNC-FM, Ipas has made a move that harms both the Chapel Hill-based international women's heath group and the radio station.
WUNC has lost the backing of one of its sponsors, and Ipas has abandoned a valuable medium through which it could advertise its services to a needy public.
Ipas canceled its sponsorship of WUNC after the station eliminated the term "reproductive rights" from an underwriting announcement.
But station officials did not act out of malice when they made their choice to restrict Ipas to saying "reproductive health" in the announcement. The decision of the station was not about restricting free speech - rather, it was about abiding by the law. Public radio stations cannot advocate any particular side of a political, social or religious debate in on-air announcements, and WUNC had to act in accordance with its Federal Communication Commission license.
If the station hadn't taken action, listeners interpreting the mention of "reproductive rights" as an endorsement of abortion rights might have complained. WUNC potentially could have faced a fine imposed by the federal agency.
The decision by WUNC was made from a sound business standpoint. Instead of punishing WUNC, Ipas should make FCC rules the focus of its fight.
Elizabeth Maguire, the organization's president, told The (Raleigh) News & Observer that Ipas believes that the station "performs an important service to the community."
If the organization holds that WUNC performs a vital function, it would be more reasonable for the group to criticize the station's action while continuing its financial support. Even though Ipas has every right to withdraw its funding from WUNC, it should re-evaluate its decision. Can the group truly expect the station to restore the changed wording and thereby risk federal penalties that might compromise its operations?
On the Ipas Web site, Maguire stated, "We highly value WUNC listeners and want to inform them about our work." Ipas might have been concerned that, with the omission of "reproductive rights," those listeners weren't getting a complete view of the group.