We have written previously about the problems with the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation’s sponsorship of WUNC’s health care reporting. Last year the BCBSNC Foundation gave WUNC $113,624 to build the station’s health news capacity. In our opinion, that is a problem.
We would be equally distressed if the North Carolina Democratic Party sponsored WUNC’s political coverage or the North Carolina Chamber sponsored the station’s business news.
This year the BCBSNC Foundation released its first ever annual report featuring audio stories about the Foundation’s grantees. The back cover of the report says “Stories produced in association with WUNC.” The WUNC logo is inside the report and on the back cover.
It is disturbing enough that the state’s flagship public radio station would accept BCBSNC money for its health reporting. But one of the state’s leading news organizations helping a large insurance company produce its annual report is unacceptable.
Managers at WUNC may contend that there is a difference between BCBSNC as a company and the BCBSNC Foundation. There is not. The board of the BCBSNC Foundation is controlled by Robert Greczyn, Daniel Glaser, J. Bradley Wilson, John Roos, Maureen O’Connor, and Steve Cherrier – all top executives at the insurance company. It is our belief that the Foundation is, in effect, a public relations arm of BCBSNC. The company uses the Foundation’s money for strategic purposes. For example, it attempts to purchase favorable news coverage by contributing to WUNC.
We have had a long relationship with many of the reporters and producers at WUNC. We are not questioning the integrity of these fine journalists. But as an organization, WUNC’s cooperation with BCBSNC raises serious questions about the station’s independence. The BCBSNC Foundation is not spending its money in the best possible way to help the more than 1.5 million uninsured residents of the state. It is doubtful, given its funding source, that WUNC would aggressively cover such a story.
To help ensure that WUNC is owned by the people and not BCBSNC we ask that you sever ties with the insurance company. BCBSNC often works against the best interests of average North Carolinians. WUNC should have no part in bolstering the insurer’s public image. We also ask that you no longer accept money from the BCBSNC Foundation – especially when the funds are used specifically for health reporting. And we ask that WUNC not provide technical support to BCBSNC or its foundation.
We care deeply about the independence and integrity of WUNC. We hope that we can work with the station in the future to highlight the plight of those North Carolina families who struggle every day to find affordable health care.