Lawmakers threaten to cut university’s funding over television station policy

MISSOURI — An e-mail asking on-air staff at KOMU-TV torefrain from wearing patriotic symbols has a handful of statelegislators threatening to cut funding for the University of Missouri.

News Director Stacey Woelfel sent the e-mail to 200 people affiliatedwith the station after he saw a weathercaster wearing a red, whiteand blue ribbon on his lapel. Some representatives saw the emaila few days later, and began to urge Woelfel to change his views.

KOMU-TV is the NBC affiliate for central Missouri. It is ownedby the university, however, and used as a hands-on learning environmentfor journalism students at the school.

Woelfel, also an instructor at the university, refuses to changehis policy and is sticking to his belief that, "We’re hereto report the news. Not to use ourselves to display our opinions."

State Rep. Matt Bartle, R-Lee’s Summit, has been the most prominentcritic of Woelfel’s decision. Other representatives to join Bartlein e-mailing Woelfel are Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield, Carl Bearden,R-St. Charles, and Martin "Bubs" Hohulin, R-Lamar.

"This is not a matter of journalistic even-handedness,"Bartle wrote in an e-mail to Woelfel. "This is a matter ofsimple decency and respect for our fellow human-beings. I amgoing to evaluating [sic] far more carefully state funding thatgoes to the school of journalism."

KOMU-TV does not receive funding from the university, and isentirely self-sufficient through its own advertising revenue.The station does not receive state funds to operate, but the schoolof journalism does.

Bartle said a copy of his e-mail would be sent to the university’sgovernment relations office to inform the school of the possiblefunding cuts.

Woelfel said the school has been "100 percent supportivefrom the dean on down" of his decision.