Last week, the City Club of Portland held its Friday Forum on Measure 11, which voters passed in 1994 to require mandatory minimum sentences for violent crimes.
Measure 11 generated disagreement from the time it went into effect: critics said its one-size-fits-all formula removed judges' discretion and disproportionately imprisoned people of color. Prosecutors and victims advocates disagreed, saying the measure returned accountability to the justice system.
But last week's panel, which City Club said in promotional materials would "bring together different perspectives to examine the measure's impacts over the last 20 years and efforts to reform the policy," included four people, all critics of Measure 11.
Normally, Oregon Public Broadcasting records City Club's Friday forums and then airs them on Friday evening. But last week, OPB refused to do that.
The network's decision angered the Oregon Justice Resource Center, a non-profit that works on criminal justice reform and whose executive director, Bobbin Singh, moderated the Measure 11 panel.
Here's part of a letter the group circulated to supporters this week:
"OPB told us that the program didn't meet their editorial standards for fairness and balance so they made the unusual decision not to broadcast it. We're deeply disappointed by this decision which we feel is shortsighted. We believe OPB should honor its self-stated commitment to diversity by creating space on its platforms for the voices of people of color and those who are speaking about issues affecting them," the letter said.
Morgan Holm, OPB's chief content officer, agrees with part of that characterization—he says his decision not to air the program was indeed "unusual"—it's only happened a couple of times in recent years.
But Holm says it was the right call.
"I felt the panel didn't have the well-balanced diversity of views that our editorial policy calls for," Holm says. "The moderator and all of the panelists were fairly like-minded on the topic."
Holm adds that the assertion that OPB failed in its commitment to serve communities of color is off-base. He says that the weekly re-broadcast of the City Club Friday Forum constitutes less than 1 percent of OPB's programming and that OPB, through its local content and programs it carries from NPR and the BBC, carries a wide variety of voices.
The issue, Holm says, was that the panel simply didn't meet OPB's editorial standards. "This decision had nothing to do with communities of color," he says.