Washington, DC — National Public Radio’s (NPR’s) ombudsman, Edward Schumacher-Matos, wrote an apology to listeners heard a simulated tinnitus sound during a story about the potential causes of tinnitus. Schumacher-Matos and an NPR science editor agree that they should have warned listeners before broadcasting the sound.

On July 17, 2011, an NPR segment on Morning Edition, titled: "Tinnitus: Why Won’t My Ears Stop Ringing?" featured a high-pitched tone that is reported to imitate ringing in the ears.

After the program aired, NPR received dozens of complaints from those who suffer from tinnitus, as well as complaints from those who do not suffer from tinnitus. The listeners wrote that NPR’s broadcast of the sound without warning had exacerbated their condition and that they subsequently heard a ringing in their ears for a long period after the broadcast. Some commented that they had never experienced the ringing before hearing the broadcast.

Ironically, NPR’s ombudsman, Edward Schumacher-Matos, who responds to listener complaints, revealed that he also suffers from tinnitus in the apology.

NPR forwarded the complaints to Anne Gudenkauf, the supervising senior science editor, who subsequently posted a warning at the top of the segment, which is available on the Internet. The warning reads: “Caution: This story contains a high-pitched sound that simulates what tinnitus sufferers hear.”

In response to the complaints, Gudenkauf wrote, "I don’t see any indication that these specific noises more than any loud noise— cause tinnitus. However the ATA [American Tinnitus Association] clearly warns users about hearing the noises at high volume. In hindsight, we should have warned our radio audience as well."

Schumacher-Matos added, “As I suffer from tinnitus, as occasionally does our intern Andrew, I couldn’t agree more. We should have warned the audience. But I have to admit, I wouldn’t have thought to do so either.”

Since The Hearing Review has linked to the original story, we would also like to warn our readers that the linked NPR story does indeed contain a high-pitched sound that simulates what tinnitus sufferers hear.

We’ll also confirm that it is a very annoying and slightly painful sound. Readers, beware…

SOURCE: National Public Radio