John F. Welch, now in two roles as board chairman of both General Electric and NBC, suggested Tuesday that a "no meddling" policy GE has had toward the news divisions of its broadcast operations will continue for NBC News on reports concerning GE.
The question of NBC News' independence in covering stories about GE, a major defense contractor, were raised earlier this year by various critics, including Ralph Nader, in the wake of GE's $6.4 billion takeover of RCA and RCA-owned NBC.
It was raised again Tuesday at a New York news conference in which Welch said he was succeeding Grant Tinker as NBC board chairman, with fellow GE executive Robert C. Wright named as NBC's new president and chief executive officer.
Tinker and NBC News President Lawrence K. Grossman have previously said they've been assured that GE would maintain a hands-off policy toward NBC News.
GE, Welch said, has "been in the broadcasting business for 60 years with stations in Schenectady, N.Y., and a variety of places where we have major plant locations. The news and the operations of those stations have stood the test of 60 years of history--of no meddling."
He added that "we understand the role of news and its independence very, very well."
Welch has given the news division "absolutely nothing but support and encouragement," for its work and independence, said NBC News President Grossman.
"There certainly has been no participation or inquiries" by NBC's new owners about NBC News' stories, added Grossman, interviewed by telephone from from Salt Lake City, where he is attending the annual convention of the Radio-Television News Directors Assn.
"There's no way they (GE officials) can limit or interfere" with the stories or investigations of NBC News "any more than RCA could," he said, saying that nobody at NBC News "would stand for it."
"I am aware of the concerns but I don't want to judge anybody prematurely," said Fred Friendly, former president of CBS News and now a professor emeritus at Columbia University, when asked what he thought about NBC News' independence under GE.
"We'll have to wait and see what happens when one of the nation's largest defense contractors takes over a network," he said in a telephone interview from New York.
Emphasizing that he has "a lot of respect for Jack Welch," Friendly said that "I'm willing to judge by what I see. I'm willing to wait and see how they manage this company. We'll all be watching."