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May 12, 2016 3:51 pm

Michigan Public Radio Refuses to Broadcast ‘Happy 68th Birthday, Israel’ Message Because It ‘Could Imply Advocacy’

avatar by Lea Speyer

MPR refused to air a "Happy 68th Birthday Israel" message. Photo: MPR.

MPR refused to air a “Happy 68th Birthday Israel” message. Photo: MPR.

A Michigan radio station refused to air a message in honor of Israel’s Independence Day, because doing so would create the impression that it supports the Jewish state, Deadline Detroit reported on Tuesday.

According to the report, Michigan Public Radio (MPR) informed listener Lisa Lis that since she donated at least $365, she was able to sponsor a day’s broadcast and have a special message read live on air six times. Lis — who, according to the report, is a strong supporter of Israel, is married to an Israeli and has a son serving in the Israel Defense Forces — chose to honor Israel’s Independence Day with the message, “Happy 68th Birthday, Israel.”

The original version of the message had the word “blessing,” which was later dropped after MPR officials said it could not air messages with religious overtones. Lis was then informed that the message could not be broadcast, because the station hadn’t received two months advance notice. However, on April 26, the associate director of development at MPR, Alison Warren, sent Lis an email rejecting the message entirely.

“We have determined that this message would compromise the station’s commitment to impartiality and that it crosses over into advocacy, or could imply advocacy,” the email read.

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Following the email, Lis and her husband attempted to “argue their point” with the station, but their requests fell on deaf ears, the report said. MPR even revised its sponsorship policies “to make it clearer for individuals” what messages are considered acceptable by the station.

Lis, upset with MPR’s decision, took her battle public, writing last Friday in a weekly newsletter that reaches 1,000 people:

Why would Public Radio need to be impartial about a legally recognized country other than the fact, many want her wiped from the face of the earth. Would it be a problem if it were the birthday of England, Norway or South Sunday? Israel is a hot button country that the world has accepted as questionable and debatable and the major infraction Israel has committed is purely her existence. By the way, I truly look forward to expression my same salutation when Palestine can celebrate her birthday.

Steve Schram, executive director and general manager of MPR, defended the station’s decision on Monday, telling Deadline Detroit that the Israel birthday message “was denied because it doesn’t meet our day sponsorship policies, which state ‘typical messages honor an individual’s birthday, anniversary, retirement, graduation, or other personal event.’ In accordance with our rules…announcements containing political or religious messages are not acceptable.”

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