Deceptive ads and lack of news scrutiny promotes Duke’s greenwashing propaganda
Watchdog group NC WARN today is filing a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) charging that public radio station WUNC repeatedly airs sponsorship announcements by Duke Energy that violate rules for noncommercial stations. We are calling for the federal regulators to end the deceptive ads and require full disclosure of Duke Energy’s spending with the station.
For several years, NC WARN has urged WUNC leaders to allow their fine journalists to report on the very issues raised by Duke Energy’s ads – climate change and the Charlotte-based corporation’s role as a major US polluter. Instead, there has been nearly no attention to Duke’s unprecedented expansion of fracked “natural” gas despite top climatologists’ warnings to Gov. Roy Cooper that building gas pipelines and power plants is thwarting efforts to slow the climate crisis.
Specifically, we are calling for the FCC to:
- stop the promotional, misleading advertising by Duke Energy on WUNC Radio.
- order WUNC to disclose all announcements it has broadcast by Duke in the last 24 months in order to allow a full evaluation of the problem.
- require that WUNC disclose the extent of its funding by Duke Energy. The public has a right to know how much of customers’ power bills are being used to disinform listeners.
WUNC has refused to provide information on the extent of funding by Duke, which clearly has been one of the station’s top sponsors for a long time.
NC WARN’s August 2019 letter to WUNC President Connie Walker reiterated our increasing concerns about the incessant ads and lack of news scrutiny. In October, 404 listeners sent Walker a letter expressing concern that “WUNC may be downplaying the dangers of Duke Energy’s growing use of natural gas,” particularly in light of Duke’s prominent advertising on the station.
Despite myriad communications and a meeting we had with Walker in November, WUNC has done nothing to indicate it will begin holding Duke Energy accountable – or that it will begin telling listeners the good news that renewable power matched with battery storage is rapidly displacing new gas projects, based on price and reliability, in non-monopoly states.
FCC rules prohibit public radio from airing sponsor spots using qualitative language, but for at least a year WUNC listeners have repeatedly heard Duke Energy’s slogan boasting of building a “smarter energy future.” Not only does this claim violate FCC rules; it’s also highly deceptive.
Another of its WUNC ads boasts that Duke “is committed to increasing solar power across North Carolina.” In fact, the corporation plans to be only 8% renewable in the Carolinas by 2033, a level that’s lower than today’s national average. And the state’s solar power industry has long complained that Duke is blocking the growth of renewables and energy storage.
Another ad makes the egregious claim that Duke is “reducing carbon emissions.” This refers only to carbon dioxide instead of accurately referring to “greenhouse gases.” It doesn’t count methane – also a carbon compound and a greenhouse gas 100 times more potent than CO2 in the critical near-term – that’s being released unburned at climate-wrecking levels throughout the natural gas system.
Today’s complaint is part of our broader challenge to Duke Energy’s influence spending. As NC WARN, Friends of the Earth, and Center for Biological Diversity have exposed in our ongoing influence money case at the NC Utilities Commission, Duke spends tens of millions of customer dollars every year to buy favor and make people think it’s green. That’s because corporate leaders know the public wants them to be green.
In December, NC WARN commissioned a statewide poll showing 1) that 75% of voters think Duke Energy is more renewable in the Carolinas than the 3-4% it really is (as a percentage of total generation), 2) over half think that Duke “is transitioning from fossil fuels to renewables such as solar or wind power” instead of massively expanding the use of climate-wrecking natural gas, and 3) a majority think – incorrectly – that building gas pipelines and power plants will lead to electricity that’s cheaper than solar power.
Such a misinformed public is an ominous signal that corporate propaganda is trumping journalism, thus eroding an essential aspect of a democratic society. As one of the state’s largest news outlets, WUNC must stop functioning as a propaganda outlet for one of the nation’s worst climate polluters.
In an age of accelerating climate crisis, North Carolina must expect much more from public radio.