By Sue Sturgis
Duke Energy, the North Carolina-based monopoly electric utility giant, is among the corporate sponsors of programming on WUNC, the flagship National Public Radio member station serving North Carolina’s Research Triangle Region, which includes the state capital of Raleigh.
The Duke Energy-underwritten spots — third-party pieces read aloud by station personnel — are the target of a complaint that was filed this week with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by the climate justice advocacy group NC WARN, which says the station is violating the agency’s rules for noncommercial radio.
“We are calling for the federal regulators to end the deceptive ads and require full disclosure of Duke Energy’s spending with the station,” NC WARN Executive Director Jim Warren said in a statement.
Federal law bars noncommercial radio stations like WUNC, which is owned by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, from airing commercial advertising. That includes announcements that promote a sponsor’s business or contain what the FCC calls “qualitative descriptions.” Announcements are supposed to be strictly technical and informative.
NC WARN says that the sponsorship spots WUNC airs for Duke Energy are qualitative and “generally promotional” in nature. They include claims that Duke Energy is building a “smarter energy future,” that the company is “committed to continue reducing emissions and increasing renewable energy,” and that it is “committed to increasing solar power across North Carolina.”
NC WARN also calls WUNC’s Duke Energy promos “highly deceptive,” noting for example that the state’s solar power industry has accused Duke of blocking the growth of renewables and energy storage.
NC WARN wants the FCC to stop WUNC’s promotional advertising of Duke Energy, order the station to disclose all announcements it has broadcast on the company’s behalf in the last two years, and require the station to disclose the extent of its Duke Energy funding.
“The public has a right to know how much of customers’ power bills are being used to disinform listeners,” Warren said.
WUNC President Connie Walker did not respond to Facing South’s request for comment.