On Wednesday of last week, WEMU-FM, a public radio station broadcasting out of Ypsilanti, fired one of its long time hosts, Terry Hughes. As reported by The Detroit News, Hughes was in charge of broadcasting a daily radio show that featured R&B hits, as well as national news highlights and weather. While having a long history of mixing personal opinion with the local and national news, Hughes was fired, according to station manager Billy Bob, for violating the station rule that prohibits discussing controversial opinions on the air. In recent broadcasts, Hughes had come out in support of President Bush, the coalition forces in the Persian Gulf and the war effort in general.
Hughes’ termination comes at a time when many sources of news media are under fire for weighing in too heavily on one side or another of the debate on the war in Iraq. This is a sad symptom of a nation unwilling to have open debate on a subject that, despite its gravity, is deserving of intense and open dialogue. Ultimately, the media have a responsibility to articulate varying points of view, especially when the subject at hand has such serious implications for the future of the world.
Even public radio, which by its very nature often remains relatively neutral issues such as the war, should be comfortable with a host like Hughes expressing his own opinion on a topic as pertinent as the war in Iraq. Providing a counterpoint to Hughes’ pro-war stance would be reasonable, and would help ensure that the station’s interest in neutrality of the station is maintained. Only with discussion will it be possible to see a true balance between both sides of the issue. Opinions like Hughes’ – pro-war or anti-war – deserve a voice in public and private media sources.
While it is accurate that the host was in violation of station policy on the matter because he expressed his opinion regarding a pertinent and controversial issues on the air, it is also evident by his own manager’s admission that Hughes has a history of discussing his own opinion on the air and that only now was he fired because this opinion was “controversial.” Controversial or not, the opinions of Hughes and others have a place in what should be a free and open discussion concerning the war effort. Terry Hughes joins an ever-increasing cadre of media personalities sidelined simply because their opinions and their styles do not happen to be congruent with those of their superiors or those of the American populace as a whole.
Unfortunately for the rest of us, their views – a beneficial part of the ebb and flow of public opinion – have now been muffled by those who would rather hear white noise than a viewpoint that might not be their own. This is unacceptable, and appears even more so given the motivations of the war effort. Ostensibly, the United States now fights a war to spread liberal ideals with the crucial role of the news media compromised.