Media Industry Experts Criticize WBFF-TV For Its Coverage Of The Term Limits Ballot Initiative Funded By The Network’s Majority Owner

A Maryland voter drops off her ballot at an official drop box. Photo by Elvert Barnes via Flickr.

What’s happening?

In less than two weeks, Baltimoreans will vote on term limits for city officials—a ballot measure financed largely by David Smith, the majority owner of Sinclair Broadcast Group, the parent company of Baltimore’s local station WBFF-TV, Bruce DePuyt reports for Maryland Matters. WBFF has covered Question K in several website articles this week, but industry experts have criticized the network for failing to highlight Smith’s role in the ballot initiative and for only including quotes from the measure’s supporters. 

What did WBFF’s critics say about their coverage of term limits? 

Smith has spent more than half a million dollars on the term limit initiative—a fact which should be disclosed in all of WBFF’s reporting on Question K, according to Donna Rosene Leff, a professor emeritus at the Northwestern Medill School of Journalism.

Leff also said that not including critics of the ballot measure in stories “crossed a pretty clear, ethical line and should be called out.” From a journalism ethics standpoint, she considers these lapses “more than odd. It’s disturbing.”

Even some of WBFF’s employees said they encouraged the network to more clearly highlight Smith’s role in the initiative, though management disregarded many of their requests. “We were specifically told we were not allowed to,” said an unnamed station employee. 

Anything else I should know?

Smith declined to comment on the story. Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott told Maryland Matters that he believes newsroom owners funding political initiatives raises some ethical concerns. “When you get to the point where you’re getting asked a question by the media and then the people that [pay] that person are then — now — funding ballot initiatives, that makes a very dangerous slope and it’s something that we should be thinking about.”

You can read more here. 

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