Media contributions questioned

When WREX-TV 13 contributed $250 to Rockford Democratic Mayor Doug Scott’s campaign Dec. 8, the station breached both business and journalistic ethics by not immediately disclosing the contribution and intent of the gift, according to John P. Fraedrich, professor of marketing and business ethics at Southern Illinois University—Carbondale. The station’s parent company, Quincy Newspapers Inc., also contributed $1,500 to Scott’s campaign on Dec. 8.

Dave Bennett, executive director of the Illinois Press Association, agreed with Fraedrich. He said: “The appearance of impropriety or bias is sometimes worse than actual impropriety. In this case, the appearance is clearly there. …At all costs, you should avoid the appearance.”

Independent Mayoral Candidate Larry Morrissey said: “I would not have accepted such a contribution because I don’t think it’s appropriate for a media outlet to make such a contribution. I agreed to go forward with the debate [On WREX, March 22] to demonstrate that we have the right priorities and approach to lead the City of Rockford. The donation from a Quincy newspaper is consistent with the mayor’s past practices of accepting money from special interest groups from outside Rockford.”

Republican Mayoral Candidate Gloria Cardenas Cudia said: “The contributions put a little shade of discomfort with some people but may not affect the local journalists’ perspective. I don’t think it will affect me getting my message out.”

WREX’s monetary gift to Scott is not the only political contribution the station has not readily disclosed. The station also contributed $200 to Democratic State Rep. Chuck Jefferson (D-67) on May 6, 2004.

The contribution to Scott is significant because the station is co-sponsoring a mayoral debate with the Rockford Register Star March 22. The debate is scheduled between Scott, Cudia and Morrissey.

Linda Grist Cunningham, executive editor of the Register Star, asserted in her opinion column March 6 “the contribution was perfectly legal and ethical.” Fraedrich and Bennett agree with Cunningham the station’s contribution was legal, but disagreed the gift was ethical.

“There is no ethical justification for the contribution without explanation of the intent from either a business or journalistic perspective. …They have betrayed the trust of the community by not explaining their reasoning. …By not explaining their actions, they become one of the unethical media outlets in the U.S.,” Fraedrich said.

Cunningham wrote in a March 2 article: “The Register Star does not make political contributions because it could be perceived as a conflict of interest for our news coverage.”

WREX representatives, including John Chadwick, vice president and general manager, did not return messages for comment.

Scott and Jefferson did not return a message by time of publication.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!