Environmental advocates call the pro-fracking advertisments misleading, and question the partnership’s effect on NPR’s journalistic independence.
A media and environmental advocacy campaign is drawing attention to National Public Radio’s compliance with pro-fracking advertisements, claiming the news organization is blurring the lines between truth and journalistic ethics.
According to Environmental Action, American Natural Gas Alliance, a company rooted in the fracking industry, has emerged as one of the news organization’s largest corporate sponsors, resulting in advertisements airing on the station for a little over a month.
That inspired the group’s website, “NPR: Don’t Even Think About It,” intended to draw attention to the partnership between what’s consistently referred to as America’s independence news source and the major players of an industry that is now rooted in the midst of a near-nationwide ethical, environmental and moral divide.
“NPR’s financial dependence on the fracking industry could be fouling its news coverage, just like fracking fouls up our air, water and climate,” the website states. “Fracking puts America on a path toward a bleak energy future, with polluted land, flammable tap water and earthquakes.”
Fracking has emerged in recent years as technology has allowed a profitable method of extracting otherwise unattainable sources of oil and natural gas. By shooting a combination of water, silica sand and chemicals deep into the ground, energy companies are able to extract the resource — along with a host of concerns.
While this has led to hopes of American energy independence, it’s also creates issues among those living in shale formations and areas rich with silica sand, both targeted by the industry.
Fracking-well malfunctions have led to the evacuation of communities and groundwater contamination for those living near well sites. Meanwhile, there’s concern over what to do with fracking wastewater, the toxic liquid byproduct of the practice itself. Those living in the midst of silica sand mining are dealing with widespread and unprecedented exposure to silica, a known carcinogenic.
In short, there are many aspects of the industry that environmentalists claim demand action, particularly media action on behalf of reputable news organizations like NPR.
Beating them at their own game
“The Don’t Even Think About It” campaign created their own advertisement highlighting the partnership between NPR and American Natural Gas Alliance through the collection of audio clips of those who typically support public radio news.
“When you take money from the fracking industry, and repeat their misleading ads on air, you’re helping some of the dirtiest companies in America get away with polluting our planet and cover up the impacts. And that has consequences,” the audio advertisement states, going on to include the voices of various NPR supporters throughout the nation considering turning their back on the news organization over this issue.
“Fracking isn’t safe, or clean. And there’s nothing natural about fracked gas. So if you want to keep us as listeners, donors and friends, you need to stop repeating the Gas Alliance’s dirty lies and stop taking their dirty money,” the ad continues to state.
The ad — and campaign — is intended to mock NPR’s “Just think about it” fracking campaign. Turning that message around, advocates are telling NPR there’s no reason to think about it.
“Since the beginning, companies like Halliburton have been covering up the real dangers of fracking. And we count on major media outlets like NPR to uncover the truth and expose the danger — Like the LA Times and ProPublica have done in the last few months. But all you hear on NPR all day, every day is how gas is ‘natural’ and fracking is ‘safe,’ and you should just ‘think about it’ at the ANGA (American Natural Gas Alliance) website of the same name,” Drew Hudson, director at Environmental Action, said in a press release. “So our members decided it was time to set the record straight, and with this radio ad, we’re hoping to engage millions of NPR listeners and fans in the conversation about how, when it comes to fracking, NPR really shouldn’t think about it.”
The site not only offers information, but also gives readers the opportunity to “join the fight” by adding their name to the list of NPR supporters — and concerned citizens — who are questioning the partnership.
“When trusted news outlets like NPR take money from ANGA and repeat their deceptive marketing claptrap — on OUR airwaves — we have to question their objectivity. Sign up here to tell NPR that when it comes to fracking, don’t even think about it,” the site states.
Those pledging support are also encouraged to donate to the cause — one that would add the radio advertisement to NPR’s airwaves. With $5,000, the organization could provide the funding necessary to air it on WNYC in New York during its “Monday Edition” program.
News consumers target NPR
The movement intended to lobby NPR to drop its involvement with the fracking industry is drawing support from throughout the environmental community. A Change.org petition directed at NPR CEO Knell is just one of the actions concerned media observers have launched.
“People trust NPR for investigative and unbiased coverage of the news. But their promotion of the American Natural Gas Alliance commitment to the environment calls into question their even handed approach to this volatile issue,” the petition states. “It is like denying climate change. The adverse health and environmental impact of hydrofracking are well documented. Some states (Vermont) and some countries (France) have completely banned it. In NY, many citizens are fighting the industry’s attempt to start fracking here. NPR should not promote fracking for gas.”
Forecast the Facts has also joined the Environmental Action movement, lending its direct support to the NPR: Don’t Even Think About It campaign. According to Emily Southard, the campaign manager for the organization, the partnership is unacceptable, and is akin to news outlets pairing up with climate change deniers.
“Forecast the Facts members believe in accurate reporting on climate change,” Southard said in a press release. “These NPR spots say nothing about the climate impacts of fracking. Just as the LA Times no longer prints letters to the editor from climate denial, so too should NPR ban advertisements that deny the reality of fracking destroying our climate and our planet.”
Another petition published on Moveon.org echoes that sentiment, claiming media involvement with fracking will murky the waters of transparency, leaving readers without true direction and understanding of what the truth really is.
“NPR receives underwriting funds from the American Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA). In exchange, NPR airs misleading ads promoting further development of natural gas, which must now be mined by the environmentally damaging extreme extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”),” it states. “This path would commit the US to decades more of increasing dependence on fossil fuels. NPR refuses to disclose its policy on how it selects sponsors from which to accept funding.”
Along with petitions, Environmental Action has sent letters directly to NPR affiliates, pressuring them to recognize and lift such content from the air. Two of those stations addressed Environmental Action’s campaign and the issues its brought up. A letter written on behalf of one member station expressed similar concerns.
“We have complained to NPR about the copy and about how this advocacy group [ANGA] is represented through the announcements.” WSKG’s President Brick Sickora wrote in a letter to the Daily Star newspaper, according to an Environmental Action press release. “I too… am very disappointed that NPR continues to accept ANGA funding. We have asked NPR to reconsider its decision to accept this funding and have explained that it puts WSKG in a very difficult position.”