After a three-hour public hearing yesterday, the Washington News Council, a media watchdog group, voted to mostly uphold a complaint by the anti-abortion Vitae Foundation charging that KUOW, in a story about Vitae billboards promoting crisis pregnancy centers that the group ran that the station's story called "misleading," failed to include comments from the group in its story about the centers. The story referred to Vitae in just one brief line: "The website was created by the Vitae Foundation, a religious group aimed at reducing abortion rates."

In the complaint, Vitae says KUOW "ran an opinion piece as an unbiased news piece instead. Vitae was never contacted. Instead of interviewing Vitae about its billboards and website, KUOW interviewed Planned Parenthood, an organization that views Vitae as a competitor.

(After the story ran, the station did interview a Vitae representative and posted the transcript online).

A spokeswoman for the group, quoted in the conservative Washington Times, called KUOW's story "misleading and biased." It ran at a time when Planned Parenthood and other pro-choice groups were pushing for legislation that would require crisis pregnancy centers to disclose that they do not provide abortion as an option or refer pregnant women and girls to abortion providers.

Among other things, the News Council ruled that KUOW had an obligation to contact Vitae before running the story; that the story included "substantive errors worthy of public, on-air corrections and/or clarifications"; that the story mischaracterized the information available about abortion on Vitae's web site; and that the station's followup reporting did not sufficiently acknowledge or clarify errors in the original story.

But the group agreed that KUOW had no obligation to provide Vitae any additional air time.

In a email, KUOW news director Guy Nelson said, "The on-air correction situation was complex, in that the only factual errors in the story were not about Vitae but rather about another subject. ... Our critics may have been confused by that in their demands, so to put that matter to rest we have now made on-air corrections to the factual errors that were in the story." Specifically, the story mis-identified the board chairman of Life Services, an Eastern Washington pregnancy center, as a doctor, and it got Life Services name wrong.

The News Council's hearing was meant to be an "open discussion of journalistic standards," not a trial, according to the group's web site.
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