Freyne, VPT Settle Controversy

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(Host) A public debate over who can be a panelist on a television news show has come to an end. Vermont Public Television has reversed its decision to limit the appearances of one of the panelists on its program “Vermont This Week.”

But before the controversy was resolved, even the governor weighed in, as VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Like most public officials, Governor Howard Dean says he’s had problems with reporters. But Dean stepped into the controversy involving columnist Peter Freyne and Vermont Public Television. The television station told Freyne two weeks ago he had been uninvited to appear on its weekly panel of journalists who discuss the week’s news. Freyne claimed it was a permanent ban; Vermont Public Television says that’s not so.

Freyne says his sources told him that VPT took the action after House Republicans threatened to cut funding for the station. But those sources haven’t been revealed.

Dean says it’s wrong to pressure media to squelch opinions. He talked to VPT managers after they took Freyne off the show:

(Dean) “We all complain about the press but the truth is that without the press, the democracy that we have doesn’t work…. Now, if you can politically influence the news by threatening to withhold money or whatever it was alleged, that’s a very, very serious problem because it strikes at the most important thing in any news organization, which is credibility.”

(Dillon) Freyne writes for the Burlington weekly Seven Days and is a frequent critic of the House Republican leadership.

This week, Freyne met with VPT officials and was invited to return to the show. VPT has named Associated Press correspondent Christopher Graff as the managing editor for the program. From now on, Graff will be responsible for selecting the show’s guests. Graff says he won’t impose editorial limits on his guests.

Freyne says he’s happy with the outcome:

(Freyne) “This was about the First Amendment and freedom of speech and not having that subjected to and stepped on by political pressure from any faction in the spectrum, right to left to whatever.”

(Dillon) VPT managers say Freyne was taken off the air because he had made offensive remarks in January when he compared conservative Republicans to the Taliban rulers in Afghanistan. Ann Curran, VPT’s community relations manager, says the station was not influenced by House Republicans:

(Curran) “That’s an issue with which we continue to disagree with Peter. He claimed in a column in Seven Days that his appearance or not appearance on the show was a result of pressure on us by Republicans in the Legislature. And that’s simply not true.”

(Dillon) Governor Dean is satisfied with the outcome. He says it makes sense to have veteran journalist Chris Graff as managing editor of the show:

(Dean) “The issue is not so much who’s on the program. The issue is, who gets to invite people on the program and who gets to make that decision. And can that decision be made without outside pressure. And I think they’ve satisfied me that They don’t intend to have any outside pressure either from the conservatives or the liberals to determine who’s on the show. And that’s the important thing.”

(Dillon) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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