ABC News' Steven Portnoy reports:
State officials in Rhode Island will soon be ordered to stay off the airways, provided the interviewer happens to be a talk show host.
A spokesman for Gov. Lincoln Chafee tells the Providence Journal that talk radio is essentially “ratings-driven, for-profit programming,” and “we don’t think it is appropriate to use taxpayer resources” to have state employees use work time to “support for-profit, ratings-driven programming.”
Chafee intends to stay off the air, too, reversing something of a trend. His predecessor, Republican Gov. Donald Carcieri, was a frequent talk radio guest, as are many current and former governors and big city mayors across the country.
A former mayor of Providence, who happens to be one of the biggest talk show hosts in the state, sharply disagrees with the governor’s stance.
“Chafee is – I don’t want to be critical – but he’s not exactly Demosthenes,” says Buddy Cianci, who hosts the afternoon drive program on WPRO-AM. “The fact is that he’s got some issues that he maybe doesn’t have the answer to [on the air].”
“But how do I take it? I take it as a total slap in the face to the public of the state of Rhode Island. There are thousands of people who listen to our radio shows. For him to ban all these people from coming on talk radio is certainly an affront to open government, and certainly is an affront to transparency,” Cianci tells ABC News.
The governor’s office has issued a clarification, saying the policy will not apply in “emergency situations,” like impending snow storms. Nor will the rule apply to interviews with news reporters or on the local NPR station, Christian Vareika, a Chafee spokesman said.
WPRO-AM, which airs Cianci’s afternoon talk show, says it intends to have state emergency management and transportation officials on Cianci’s show later today ahead of the winter storm that is closing in on Rhode Island.
But talk station executives are particularly stung by the notion that their programming is to be avoided by state officials because the stations are “for-profit.” More than 90 years after broadcasters were first licensed to sell commercial time with a mandate that they serve the public interest, Chafee’s position strikes many in the business as novel and worrisome.