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TV Producer, News Council Spar; Year Old Decision Resurrected at IRE Conference Session

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

TV Producer, News Council Spar; Year Old Decision Resurrected at IRE Conference Session

Article excerpt

A SIMMERING resentment over the outcome of a 1996 hearing before the Minnesota News Council boiled over at the recent Investigative Reporters and Editors annual conference. Jacquee Petchel, formerly of WCCO-TV in Minneapolis, charged that the council was lobbied by public relations representatives of Northwest Airlines before upholding the company in its complaint that WCCO presented a "distorted, untruthful picture" in its series on the airline's safety.

The series, produced by Petchel, alleged that Northwest's managers, to preserve the airline's top ranking for on-time departures and arrivals, regularly intimitated mechanics into returning planes from maintenance too quickly to ensure their safety.

The council, which is made up of ordinary citizens and journalists, supported Northwest's claim by a vote of 19 to 2.

Petchel, who is currently with WFOR-TV in Miami, spoke an an IRE panel, "Beyond Libel: New Weapons Against the Press" in Phoenix.

"The corporation was ready to throw into the mix whatever they had to to win the case" she said.

"We did not know that Northwest had hired people to lobby members of the news council. We naively believed our story would stand by itself."

She suggested the fact that since Northwest is one of Minneapolis' major businesses, it played a role in the council's decision.

"I felt very much like someone charged with witchcraft," Petchel stated. "I was badly bruised .... My punishment was public humiliation from a tribunal that dealt largely with public relations by one of the most politically powerful corporations in Minnesota. Northwest would never have had a case in a court."

However, Petchel acknowledged, "We do make mistakes. There are things in the series I would have done differently"

In a telephone interview from Minneapolis, the news council's executive director, Gary Gilson, called Petchel's remarks "misleading and self-serving"

"The station was not able to get any credible sources to go on camera and substantiate its charges" he went on. …

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