Ypsilanti, MI –
1. Theron Hughes, a.k.a. Thayrone, was fired for failing to fulfill a station directive to run NPR newscasts that were temporarily added to The Bone Conduction Music Show for the duration of the conflict in Iraq. Station management determined that, if the situation was serious enough to warrant postponement of the spring on-air pledge drive, it was important enough to justify hourly updates throughout WEMU's entire broadcast schedule. Hourly newscasts were added to four programs that didn't regularly carry them. The four program hosts were notified five days in advance of their programs' air date. No host, including Theron Hughes, registered a complaint with management.
The reasons for Mr.Hughes' dismissal were compounded by his on-air disparagement of WEMU's network, NPR; his accusing the network of biased coverage; and his recommendation that listeners tune in to another network (Fox News) for accurate coverage.
Contrary to published media reports, encouraged by Mr. Hughes, he was not fired for expressing a pro-war viewpoint on the air. Although WEMU expects its announcers to refrain from expressing political opinions or opinions on issues of controversy, it was Mr. Hughes' failure to carry out a directive from management, and his assertion that he would continue to do so, that led to his dismissal.
2. Mr. Hughes has led the public to believe that WEMU paid a fee to carry The Bone Conduction Music Show. Further, he implies that the four-hour live program, produced at WEMU, is the same program that airs in syndicated form on four other NPR stations/networks in the U.S. That two-hour program is produced at Mr. Hughes' home, has a no-news contract clause, and does not contain the same opinionated commentary heard on WEMU.
In fact, Mr. Hughes was a part-time hourly employee of WEMU and Eastern Michigan University and was subject to all rules of employment and conduct as determined by the University. Payroll records, supporting this statement, are on file with both WEMU and Eastern Michigan University.
According to the EMU Employee Handbook, Mr. Hughes' failure to comply with a station directive is classified as "Insubordination, which shall include but not be limited to refusal or failure without good cause, to accept or perform job assignments as directed by the supervisor, or refusal or failure without good cause, to accept instruction or direction through the supervisor or other designated representative of management," a Class II offense. The penalty for repeated Class II offenses is dismissal.
Eastern Michigan University stands by the decision to terminate Mr. Hughes' employment on these grounds.
3. Mr. Hughes asserts that he owns 'The Bone Conduction Music Show.' In fact, he trademarked the program name in January of 2002. There has never been a written contract or memorandum of understanding between Mr. Hughes and WEMU that asserts ownership of program content, unlike the syndicated version of the program (ref. #2). WEMU has never attempted to profit in any way from it.
4. Mr. Hughes contends that his firing was illegal and unjustified because, as a public radio station, WEMU is owned by the public.' While the people of the state of Michigan own WEMU and all other public radio stations, Eastern Michigan University holds the broadcast license for WEMU and has given its General Manager, Arthur Timko, the authority to make programming and broadcast decisions that are in the best interest of the public and the station.
Firing an announcer under these circumstances is the appropriate response. The music host does not hold the broadcast license. He is an employee (whether volunteer or paid) of the licensee. The licensee of the station has received from the FCC, not just the permission, but the absolute requirement, to make decisions about what will air in the public interest. That means that station management can tell announcers what to do. Announcers, as employees, have the responsibility to fulfill their duties as employees.