It appears that sports cable network ESPN will finally address accusations that it has become far too political, and has now issued new guidelines to reign in talent by ensuring that on-air political commentary is tied more directly to sports.
The new rules come after years of fans and customers complaining that ESPN has become a bastion of left-wing views delivered at the expense of sports, and to the utter exclusion of any conservative ideas.
While in some cases it appears the new rules do offer a little wiggle room for on-air talent, the rules seem to be aimed at tamping down the wild spouting on political topics its hosts have indulged for the last few years. It is also interesting that ESPN released these new guidelines right in the middle of the NCAA Championship game when fans were distracted by the tournament and might not have taken notice of the change. It is almost like the practice of dumping political news on a Friday evening in the hopes that it might make fewer waves because all the reporters have already gone home for the weekend.
ESPN’s vice president of global digital content, Patrick Stiegman, noted that the rise of social media and the many controversies that on-air talent recently stirred via Twitter and Facebook was a major reason for the new guidelines.
“We have the convergence of a politically charged environment and all these new technologies coming together at once,” Stiegman told ESPN’s Jim Brady. “Based on that, we wanted the policy to reflect the reality of the world today. There are people talking about politics in ways we have not seen before, and we’re not immune from that.”
Brady, also ESPN’s ombudsman, addressed complaints from fans that the network has become too political in a long article published last November. Brady made to investigate the claims that his network had become infected with liberal politics, and at that time concluded that was not the case.
Despite Brady’s obviously skewed “investigation” from November, it now appears that the network has accepted the charge that it has become too political.
Some of the changes include a proscription against political advocacy, including the one that states, “Original news reports should not include statements of support, opposition or partisanship related to any social issue, political position, candidate or office holder.” The rules also both directly and indirectly mention social media, stating, “Writers, reporters, producers and editors directly involved in ‘hard’ news reporting, investigative or enterprise assignments and related coverage should refrain in any public-facing forum from taking positions on political or social issues, candidates or office holders.”
By “public-facing forum,” the network means social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Indeed, later in the new policy, it directly notes that the new rules apply to “ESPN, Twitter, Facebook and other media.”
The new guidelines also inform hosts that any interviews with candidates will have to be cleared by executives so that “balance” can be assessed. It also says that presentations must be balanced, stating “The presentation should be thoughtful and respectful. We should offer balance or recognize opposing views, as warranted. We should avoid personal attacks and inflammatory rhetoric.”
The new rules could act to temper the extreme liberalism in which hosts have routinely indulged. But, it remains to be seen if the network will stick to the policy if the left-wing commentary goes on unabated. After all, it should be noted that the network had rules similar to these before and it neither calmed the on-air liberal outbursts nor did the rules form the basis for any punishment of violations of anyone spouting liberal political views.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at email@example.com.