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Lawmaker's Subpoena Excited UNC-TV Reporter, Email Shows

The News & Observer has an update on last summer's UNC-TV controversy while also looking at how much funding lawmakers will give the statewide public television network. If you recall, the controversy surrounded stories on Alcoa and the Yadkin River. Some lawmakers who want the state to take control of Alcoa's dams on the Yadkin were concerned that UNC-TV was holding back information they wanted the public to hear. State Senator Fletcher Hartsell of Cabarrus County demanded raw footage, and UNC-TV complied because it's part of a state agency. UNC-TV then aired the report, but with this disclaimer: "For the first time in its network history, UNC-TV has made the decision to refrain from exercising its customary editorial review over an individual reporter's project." The three-part series was highly critical of Alcoa. Reporter Eszter Vajda tried to connect Alcoa's working conditions and environmental problems to deaths and illnesses of workers. The series was widely criticized as being biased. UNC-TV also received criticism for airing the stories without editorial review. Then, it turned out that an Alcoa opponent paid a friend of Vajda's $3,000 to help her with research. The payment was made by former House Speaker Richard Morgan, who was working for the North Carolina Water Rights Coalition. Vajda then lost her job. In Sunday's N&O report, top UNC-TV managers express no regrets in how they handled the controversy. "I am very, very proud of what all of our staff did. I've thought through all of these events; there's not a single decision I would make differently," said General Manager Tom Howe. "We made good decisions based on the information we had at the time," added Shannon Vickery, director of production. Locke's report also revealed an e-mail that Vajda wrote to former NC Public Radio reporter Laura Leslie when Sen. Hartsell demanded the raw footage. "This is something I'm happy with! Will not impact others trust me! THIS is off record!!! Hartsell is saving my a--!" UNC-TV has asked for a $1.3 million funding increase, according to Locke's report. Sen. Andrew Brock, who supports Alcoa in the Yadkin controversy, said "we need assurances that they can't have the people who control their budget telling them to run a piece that was paid for by the opposition. We need assurances that won't happen again."