Human Rights Commission Denies Appeal
AUGUSTA – A former MPBN journalist who was fired because she did not sound pretentious enough for public radio has lost her appeal to the Maine Human Rights Commission Thursday.
Sarah Melvin, 43, accused MPBN of discriminatory employment practices reflected in written policies and verbal directives for on-air talent to “enunciate every phonetically-active letter of every word as if you are trying to gain admission to Oxford University 100 years ago.”
Melvin said she had received three verbal warnings about her on-air use of contractions before her dismissal, along with two written admonitions for pronouncing some of her Ts as Ds.
“Whether you say ‘my mother is sevendy years old,’ or ‘my mother is seventy years old,’ people understand the message,” Melvin said. “Clarity is not the issue here — oops, excuse me. Clari-TEE.”
Complaint documents reveal that the last straw for network management was Melvin’s use of the word “gonna” during a morning newscast.
“The restrictive policies against dialectical forms of speech reflect a prejudicial attitude toward individuals from more rural cultures,” said Melvin, who grew up in West Virginia but holds three college degrees, including a Master’s in Communications from the University of Tennessee. “I should not have to abandon my heritage to prove that I’m an articulate and credible reader of the news.”
MPBN spokeshuman Everett LaPointe argued that station management has the right to dictate that those speaking on the air do so “in a formal style that demonstrates the utmost appreciation and respect for the purity of our language and for the erudite tastes of our audience.”
LaPointe also called Melvin’s educational achievements irrelevant. “The fact that there are ‘universities’ somewhere that will grant people diplomas even if they talk like Dr. Phil or George W. Bush does not mean such persons deserve to be heard on public radio.”
He admitted it has become almost impossible to find local on-air talent who can meet MPBN’s speech standards, which is why the network imports its international news coverage from the BBC.
“Ideally, we would not even hire anybody who didn’t speak with a British accent,” said LaPointe.
Inside sources say network management has gone to extreme lengths to make broadcasts sound more sophisticated, which include locking meteorologist Tom Cousins in a brightly-lit closet for hours at a time until he revises his forecasts into works of literature.
“I don’t know about you, but I enjoy listening to Paul’s poetic prognostications,” said LaPointe. “As a society we would lose something if we did not get to hear about rain showers ‘tickling the western border’ and ‘fog draped over the region by morning.’ This is how we keep all those English majors tuning in.”