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Why Some Public Radio Supporters Won't Be Donating to NPR This Year

On-air fracking promotions have left some listeners questioning their contributions.

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For more than 20 years, Dennis Higgins of Otego, NY has donated to NPR. Last year he gave about $500. But this year, he was uneasy after hearing NPR continuously plug the American Natural Gas Alliance, a fracking advocacy organization.

“NPR has a little plug,” Higgins said. “Something like: ‘To our supporter ANGA and their commitment to the environment and jobs in the United States.’”

Higgins is an assistant professor of computer science and mathematics at SUNY Oneonta. He wouldn’t call himself an environmental activist, but his area is at risk of being affected by fracking, so he and his wife stay up-to-date on the issue. They went to all the town board meetings to establish a moratorium in his county, motivated, they say, by their love for the natural beauty of the region as well as their family.

“I have a family. I have young children. …We have a farm. We have horses and cows and chickens. And I’m thinking, my kids have to drink this water, my animals have to drink this water. So we’re looking at it like that.”

Higgins contacted NPR’s ombudsman and a number of shows about their plugs for ANGA, but got no response.

“It was pretty frustrating,” he said.

So Higgins decided he wasn’t going to donate to NPR this year, and that he was going to encourage others to pledge to do the same. He started two online petitions calling on NPR’s CEO Gary Knell to eliminate NPR’s ANGA plugs.

Higgins wrote in the description of one petition:

Certainly, NPR should not be promoting the gas industry's commitment to jobs and the environment. I wrote our local affiliate when I withheld my yearly contribution and got no response. I wrote NPR and got no response. I guess my contribution is not as important to them as ANGA's. Will you stand with me and withhold your contribution to NPR until they pull the ads touting ANGA's commitment to our environment? 

Currently, Higgins has more than 600 signatures on his main petition, which hosts a flurry of comments expressing similar frustrations with NPR’s plugs. Melanie Maroney of McDonough, NY wrote, “Hearing these ads on NPR sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard. My tax dollars support NPR, thus these promotions are out-of-line.”

Joanne Cipolla-Dennis of New York wrote:

Since NPR gets SO much $$ from ANGA I haven’t sent in any money. And I don’t plan to. I am VERY dismayed that NPR feels it necessary to allow and encourage the number-one industry creating the climate change destruction all over the planet to continue to spew its sinful spin. People who listen to NPR are educated people and when we hear those AGNA commercials we all quickly turn the volume down so we aren’t sickened by the crap, and frankly I got tired of hearing it and listen less and less to NPR — getting information in other places that don’t take such a welcoming stance on this industry.

But not everyone who tunes in to NPR will be educated on the harms of fracking, which is why Higgins and others are especially disappointed with the ANGA plugs. “You have their listeners listening to these plugs for natural gas and then maybe thinking ‘Oh, NPR’s supporting drilling,’” Higgins said.

Emma of Pennsylvania wrote on the petition:

Make no mistake: sponsorship acknowledgments are ads, but more insidious because the audience is more apt to trust them, all of which profiteering companies have long understood. NPR, protect your mission statement: inform and challenge us with a deeper understanding, and make sure everything you do is a public service.