As first appeared in NewsBreak
By Aron Solomon
The firing of West Virginia Public Broadcasting (WVPB) reporter Amelia Ferrell Knisely is a bad news story no one who supports public broadcasting wanted to hear to begin 2023.
Knisely alleges that she was told to stop reporting about abuses she documented by the Department of Health and Human Resources against individuals with disabilities under care by the state. Knisely also alleges that her firing was the result of the state agency threatening to discredit WVPB.
West Virginia Public Broadcasting is a public television and radio network serving the state of West Virginia. It was created in the 1960s to provide educational programming to the state’s residents.
The first public television station in West Virginia, WSWP-TV, began broadcasting in 1963. It was operated by West Virginia State College (now West Virginia State University) and served the Charleston area. In the following years, additional public television stations were established across the state, and in 1979, the West Virginia Public Broadcasting Authority was created to oversee the network.
WVPB has grown significantly since its inception and now operates a network of six television stations and nine radio stations that serve the entire state. It is a member of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR) and offers a mix of programming, including educational shows, news, and public affairs programs, and entertainment.
Because of the fact that WVPB is part of PBS and NPR, Knisely’s firing is an assault on public broadcasting writ large.
In an interview on Monday, Jason Matzus, a Pittsburgh lawyer, shared his legal perspective on the issue with me:
“If the facts show that this journalist was fired for detailing the alleged mistreatment of individuals with disabilities being cared for by the state, this could end up in court. The laws that protect whistleblowers also protect those who report misconduct, such as journalists.”
According to the Associated Press, West Virginia’s Republican Governor, Jim Justice, has been trying for years to eliminate state funding for WVPB, which is close to $4 million per year.
There is no better time for a reminder of why public broadcasting is important in the United States.
Public broadcasting provides an alternative source of information and entertainment that is not influenced by commercial interests. Public broadcasting services, such as PBS, NPR, and their affiliates, such as WVPB, offer programming that is educational, informative, and cultural and that may not be provided by commercial broadcasters. They also serve as a platform for diverse voices and perspectives to be heard.
Simply put, public broadcasting helps to ensure that all members of the community, including those who may not be able to afford subscription-based services, have access to high-quality programming.
How this all plays out will send an important message to state officials about how they are able to treat investigative journalists but, equally importantly, about how we presently value (or don’t value) our public broadcasters.
About Aron Solomon
A Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer, Aron Solomon, JD, is the Chief Legal Analyst for Esquire Digital and the Editor-in-Chief for Today’s Esquire. He has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania, and was elected to Fastcase 50, recognizing the top 50 legal innovators in the world. Aron has been featured in Forbes, CBS News, CNBC, USA Today, ESPN, TechCrunch, The Hill, BuzzFeed, Fortune, Venture Beat, The Independent, Fortune China, Yahoo!, ABA Journal, Law.com, The Boston Globe, YouTube, NewsBreak, and many other leading publications.