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WDAV Keeps World Of Opera Host; Activism Prompts NPR To Reevaluate Program

The host of a national show produced by public radio station WDAV in Davidson is causing a stir because of her off-air political activities. The program doesn't deal with news or current affairs. It's The World of Opera hosted by Lisa Simeone. NPR distributes the program nationally, but it's now re-evaluating that.The World of Opera is pretty much what you'd expect. Each show features segments of an opera that host Lisa Simeone re-caps. In one recent episode she talks about Mozart's Don Giovanni: "He's the quintessential rake, the ultimate scoundrel, a womanizer with a list of conquests so long, his right-hand man needs an entire aria just to outline it." Simeone keeps to the opera and doesn't talk current affairs or politics. But recently outside of the studio it's been a different matter.

Simeone recorded a video several months ago for the group October 2011 that touts human needs not corporate greed and whose members camp out in public spaces like the Occupy Wall Street movement. In the video she says: "My name is Lisa Simeone and I'm going to Washington DC on October 6 because our moment has come to stop these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and all the other places we're no bombing with our drones and other equipment. And to demand that that money that's being wasted on slaughter come home here to the U.S. to be spent on human needs..."

Simeone wouldn't talk on tape, but she says she never had any second thoughts about participating in the protest. And she never thought her job would be on the line because of those activities. NPR is now evaluating whether to distribute the show, which WDAV produces.

NPR's ethics policy states there may be instances with some types of programming where its ethics policy doesn't apply. But those exceptions should be approved by NPR. WDAV says it will keep Simeone as the host of World of Opera. In a statement, the station says it respects NPR's mission to serve as a leading news provider. But WDAV exists to serve as a leading provider of arts and cultural programming.

NPR officials declined to talk on tape. A spokeswoman would only say NPR is working with WDAV to find a mutually agreeable solution. So should music hosts be held to the same journalistic standards as reporters? Adam Hochberg, a former NPR reporter who now teaches journalism at UNC Chapel Hill says yes. "Mainly what NPR is known for and mainly what listeners tune into NPR for is news and information programming. So I do think that they need to be especially cautious of maintaining objectivity both in their news programming, but also maintaining a standard of objectivity among their entertainment hosts as well," says Hochberg.

While it looks like Simeone will remain with The World of Opera, she lost another gig over activism. She was fired as host of Soundprint, a documentary program carried by WAMU public radio, near Washington DC. Some public radio stations carry the program, but it's not distributed by NPR. Simeone says she never made any secret of her activism. In fact, she says she's included a link to the protest in all of her emails for several months.

Of course, NPR has been involved in a couple controversies in the past year. Most notably, there was the firing of Juan Williams for comments he made about Muslims on Fox News.