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News >  Crime/Public Safety

Advocacy group asks KREM to investigate and take accountability for how pornography appeared on evening newscast

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 21, 2021

Spokane police are investigating after a pornographic video played during the 6 p.m. KREM 2 newscast on Sunday evening.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)
Spokane police are investigating after a pornographic video played during the 6 p.m. KREM 2 newscast on Sunday evening. (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)

A group that seeks to protect children and families from graphic television content has called for KREM 2 to investigate how a pornographic video aired during its Sunday evening newscast and share the results.

The station says it is investigating, but has declined to elaborate on the process.

During the 6 p.m. news Sunday, a pornographic video played for about 10 seconds on a screen behind a broadcaster delivering the weather forecast. Viewers quickly reported the incident to police.

The Spokane Police Department’s special victims unit opened an investigation into how the image appeared and where it came from. Detectives have yet to determine how it happened, said Julie Humphreys, a spokesperson for the department.

The Parents, Television and Media Council asked the station and its general manager, RJ Merritt, to open an investigation into how the video made it to air, fire the responsible parties and publicly share the specific actions they will take to address the problem, in a letter sent to the station Wednesday and a press release.

Initially, KREM responded to requests for comment with a statement saying the station apologized to viewers in the 11 p.m. newscast and is “diligently working to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.”

“We felt that was not enough,” said Tim Winter, president of the council. “You can’t just apologize and say we’re all good.”

The incident is already over and the damage already done, Winter said, but now the station has a chance to be transparent and regain trust from viewers.

“It’s now up to the station to respond and say we’re going to get to the bottom of it,” Winter said. “I think there’s a public interest … responsibility to tell the public they found the person and this is what we did.”

Anne Bentley, vice president and chief communications officer at TEGNA, KREM 2’s parent company, said in a statement on behalf of KREM that the company is investigating “to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.”

The station is cooperating with the police investigation, she added. KREM declined to answer questions about the incident or the investigation.

The incident immediately reminded Winter of a similar situation in Roanoke, Virginia, when sexually explicit material was broadcast briefly on the evening news during a segment on a former adult film star who had joined a local volunteer rescue squad, according to the Roanoke Times. The Federal Communications Commission found the station violated federal law by airing “indecent programing from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. when there is a reasonable risk that children may be in the audience.”

The station was fined $325,000 in 2015 for the incident, the highest fine ever at the time for a single indecent broadcast.

The fine was that high, in Winter’s opinion, because the station tried to sweep the error under the rug.

“I think what we learned is, own the mistake,” Winter said. “If you take swift and forceful action, what that demonstrates to me and the FCC is that you’re a responsible broadcaster.”

The FCC did not respond to multiple requests for comment on its process for levying fines.

Winter hopes KREM will “be a leader on this” and be transparent with the results of the investigation. Winter said if they don’t get a response from the station, they plan to amp up their requests by encouraging the public to file complaints to the FCC.

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