Editors at National Public Radio have taken a stance against the firing of a reporter who worked with WUTC-FM on a story about LGBT issues. Jacqui Helbert, the affiliate reporter, was fired from her job after being accused of secretly recording high school students and legislators discussing LGBT issues.
The University Of Tennessee at Chattanooga, who holds the radio stations license, who fired Helbert are now being questioned about whether legislators forced the University to fire her—especially since the legislature control the university’ funding.
In the defense of Helbert, her editors do not feel her offense was a just cause for termination. NPR news Director Michael Oreskes and Standards Editor Mark Memmott said in a statement that although it was bad judgement for Helbert to not announce herself as a reporter, her media credential and recording equipment were “obvious signs” that she was gathering information for a story.
The NPR editing team said: “Taking the decisions about enforcing ethics out of their hands did more to undermine the station’s credibility than the original infraction…We strongly urge the university and WUTC to reach an agreement that ensures the station’s editorial independence in the future.”
The controversy started when Helbert had accompanied members of the Cleveland High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance on a trip to the state Capitol Complex. The group met with Republican lawmakers to oppose the bill requiring transgender students to use facilities that align with the gender on their birth certificates.
Republican Mike Bell said he greeted each of the visitors when they came to his office and again when they left. He said Helbert did not identify herself then, when she should have.
“It’s not right for somebody to secretly record you, period,” Rep. Bell said. “She should have identified herself.”
The report is said to include the Republican senator asking the students what defines transgender? “Is it how I feel on Monday? I feel different on Tuesday? Wednesday I might feel like a dog,” Bell was quoted as saying.
Another part of the report has Republican Kevin Brooks telling the students the bill would not make it past the first committee vote.
“The decision was based on the fact that identifying yourself as a member of the media is such a basic fundamental issue,” University Spokesperson Chuck Contrell…Every beginning reporter knows that.” [L8N]