Oregon Public Broadcasting declined to air a City Club of Portland forum on mandatory minimum prison sentences that Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis had faulted as one-sided.
The Friday Forum discussion last week involved panelists critical of Measure 11, the voter-approved initiative in 1994 that set mandatory minimum prison sentences for serious crimes.
OPB, which usually airs Friday Forum on the radio, chose not to broadcast the discussion after determining the talk did not meet editorial standards.
“While the Friday Forum program included relevant and useful information about the effects of mandatory minimum sentences on Oregon’s criminal justice system, in our view the panel lacked the range of viewpoints that would have provided a well-balanced discussion of the topic,” Morgan Holm, the chief content officer at OPB, said in a statement.
The panel featured Lucy Flores, a former Nevada state lawmaker; Shannon Wight, deputy director of the Partnership for Safety and Justice; David Rogers, the executive director of the ACLU of Oregon; and Bobbin Singh, the executive director of the Oregon Justice Resource Center.
In an email Wednesday, Holm said it is “extremely rare” for OPB not to air Friday Forum over content concerns. He said he had no contact with Marquis about the decision.
Marquis had sent an email to OPB and other Portland media before the forum, explaining that he and others at the Oregon District Attorneys Association tried to reach out to the City Club about balancing the panel but were unsuccessful. The Willamette Week reported on Marquis’ concerns on Friday.
Marquis said, however, that he did not urge OPB not to air the forum.
“They have a really impressive history of being brokers of ideas,” the district attorney said of the City Club. But he called the forum on mandatory minimum sentences one-sided.
“The Portland City Club is a private organization, if they want to have a pep rally to overturn Measure 11, that’s their right,” Marquis said Wednesday. “The only reason I got agitated about it was that they weren’t being intellectually honest about it.”
Chris Trejbal, the communications director at the City Club, said the online description of the forum was not clear enough and caused confusion. The City Club, though, did want to open the conversation with the impact of mandatory minimum sentences on communities of color and underserved communities. He said another forum with district attorneys and victims’ advocacy groups is planned for early next year.
“Part of it, honestly, is City Club has in the last few years really been working hard to engage with communities of color in Portland,” Trejbal said. “We feel that their voice isn’t being very well heard in the conversations in the city and in the state, and so we really wanted to start this off from the perspective of, ‘How is this impacting those communities?’
“The communities that we don’t hear from all the time.”
David Menschel, an attorney and activist in Portland, said OBP regularly broadcasts material from the perspective of powerful public officials.
“They’re happy to give those people a platform and let them speak openly without providing contrasting voices,” he said. “But when people who are asking difficult questions about whether Oregon should, for instance, incarcerate more black people per capita than Louisiana, all of sudden ‘balance’ becomes this very sacred principle.”