Sunday, June 28, 2009

VPR Programming Pushes Commercial Banking in Poor Communities

Last Saturday I heard a disgusting segment of Marketplace Money (produced by American Public Media) on "Vermont's NPR Station": Banking on the previously unbanked, praising the opening of commercial bank branches in the poor neighborhoods of Los Angeles.

Just the kind of feel-good/do-gooder programming that would appeal to Vermont Public Radio's successful, smug, elite listener and donor base: we know better, so let's help the poor people who don't!

But the copy was was straight from the marketing departments of commercial banks. No matter what their public relations people will tell you, Bank of America and Wells Fargo (featured in the segment) are not caring institutions; they want to make a profit and will do anything to attract customers, even by using deceptive marketing in lower class neighborhoods.

A few telling quotes from the program: "He found that lots of banks simply don't think they can make money in these neighborhoods."

"But I think that often the banks find it very difficult to visualize a whole bunch of low-income consumers as being a vibrant market, but in fact they can be."

"The mayor's office says its goal is to add 10,000 people to the banking system and get them away from predatory lenders, like check-cashing storefronts, payday loan outfits and even liquor stores.."

"Predatory lenders" indeed! More like "Pot calling the kettle black."

There was neither a mention of small town, neighbourhood "community banks" nor of credit unions.

VPR should review its purchase of this kind of programming from American Public Media. But like most NPR affiliates, it won't. Its stations receive 31% of funding from local business underwriting and rely heavily on underwriting from Chittenden Bank. (Vermont's largest full-service bank - now owned by a Connecticut bank - bankrolled the establishment of VPR Classical.) In 2007, then VPR president Mark Vogelsang praised Chittenden in the bank's community newsletter, "With Chittenden’s help, we've created a resource for the community that connects neighbors across the state." To VPR, neighbors = bank customers, wealthy retirees and "summer" contributors. So naturally, this NPR affiliate continues to run programs that look positively on corporate bank scum like Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Chittenden.

A recommendation: BI readers - of any economic class - in Vermont who want to keep their money in the state - away from corporate banks - should join Vermont Bank Users Strike.

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