Actions to Save Pacifica

by John Riley
May 2, 2001

Concerned Friends of WBAI,

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: John Riley (917) 653-7267 or
April 30, 2001 WBAI Listener Action Hotline: (800) 825-0055


On Saturday, April 28, some 1,300 listeners and supporters of New York City's progressive community radio station, WBAI, gathered in front of the station's studios on Wall Street for an afternoon of peaceful protest. The demonstrators, 800 of whom had marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to join the event in lower Manhattan, were protesting the December takeover of the historically autonomous station by the non-profit Pacifica Foundation to which it belongs, and the events that followed: the firing, banning or removal from the air of 20 staff members, and the imposition of a gag rule preventing on-air discussion of the future of WBAI and Pacifica. The demonstrators demanded a return of the station to community control and the resignation of Pacifica National Board members who have betrayed the progressive mission of the listener-supported, five-station Pacifica radio network. During the rally, national managers from the D.C.-based Pacifica were present inside the station due to their increasing concern about the crisis which threatens the Foundation's funding base.

Save WBAI. April 28, 2001 © Copyright, Diane Greene Lent, 2001

Three activist organizations, Concerned Friends of WBAI, Community for Progressive Radio, and the Campaign to Stop the Corporate Takeover of Pacifica, organized the march. All three are calling for a boycott of WBAI's mid-May fund drive, to exert pressure on the increasingly repressive management and National Board of Pacifica. The Local Advisory Boards of WBAI (NY) and KPFA (the Berkeley, California Pacifica station) have also endorsed the boycott. Since the mid-1990s, Pacifica has purged hundreds of progressive and dissident voices from the airwaves at all 5 stations in a campaign to mainstream its programming. The rally at WBAI was addressed by a parade of former station staff members, elected officials, labor leaders and representatives of African-American, Latino, Asian American and feminist organizations. A special highlight was a solidarity statement from a Puerto Rican leader of a simultaneous rally at the Federal Building to protest the U.S. Navy's latest bombing of Vieques, Puerto Rico.

NYC Central Labor Council endorsement Adrian Holder, Vice President of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, announced to the throng of demonstrators that the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, had passed a resolution supporting the fired and banned WBAI workers and endorsing the protest. Among the unions whose leaders spoke at the rally to register their support for the fired WBAI workers and for restoration of community control of the station were the CUNY Professional Staff Congress, the Transport Workers Union, and the Taxi Workers Alliance.

Juan Gonzalez calls for listener boycott of WBAI fund drive

Daily News reporter Juan Gonzalez, who resigned in January as co-host of Pacifica's flagship national news show, Democracy Now!, to protest mounting censorship and other abuses by Pacifica management, also spoke to the crowd outside the station's offices. Describing as "hijackers" the group of corporate managers, lawyers and investors that has gained control of the traditionally progressive Pacifica national board, Gonzalez called for a boycott of WBAI's May fund-raising drive. Under the guidance of these members, Gonzalez said, the board has routinely suppressed free speech and violated the civil and labor rights of listeners and staff, and is now seeking to illegally change the non-profit network's by-laws to prepare for a possible sale of one or more stations. The boycott is intended to "turn up the heat until the board hijackers resign," and democratic governance can be established. "The fight over Pacifica's future has become one of the most important movements for media democracy in U.S. history," Gonzalez said. "We cannot afford to lose." Gonzalez urged listeners to contact the Pacifica Campaign at 646-230-9588.

City Council schedules hearings on WBAI for May 7 City Council hearings on the situation at WBAI were announced by Rosalie Hoffman of Concerned Friends of WBAI. City Council Resolution 1723, which calls on the Pacifica Foundation to rescind the recent firings and bannings at WBAI and cease interfering with its operations, will be the subject of public hearings before the Civil Service and Labor Committee on Monday, May 7 at 10:00am. Hoffman noted that the resolution now has 16 co-sponsors in the Council and suggested that people concerned about saving WBAI urge their Council representatives to support it. Council members can be located through the City Hall switchboard, 212-788-7100. Hoffman called on those who want to get involved in the campaign to pass the City Council resolution to call Concerned Friends of WBAI at 800-825-0055.

Congressman Major Owens scheduled hearings on WBAI for May 15; Congressman Major Owens (D-Brooklyn) announced at the rally that on Tuesday, May 15, he will convene hearings by the Congressional Progressive Caucus on the situation at WBAI and Pacifica. Owens was recently cut off the air during a live WBAI broadcast by interim station manager Utrice Leid after he questioned current Pacifica policy, who then fired the host and took over the program. Owens, saying he was outraged about being censored "in my own home city of New York," compared the incident to "some totalitarian country where some great minister of information was dispensing the truth." He later criticized Pacifica's management on the floor of Congress.

BACKGROUND The move against the historically autonomous WBAI is reminiscent of the spring 1999 lockout at Pacifica station KPFA in Berkeley, when thousands took to the streets to defend their station, eventually winning back a measure of local control. The Pacifica National Board - now stacked with corporate executives and lawyers instead of the social activists and unionists of the past - has already succeeded in "mainstreaming" the other three Pacifica stations: KPFK in Los Angeles, KPFT in Houston and WPFW in Washington, D.C., the latter two of which now play mostly music. The board has also discussed selling the licenses to the New York or Berkeley stations for hundreds of millions of dollars. Late last year, the board turned its attention to New York affiliate WBAI. On Dec. 22-23, national management fired the longtime station manager, the program director and a prominent producer, changed the locks, and installed talk show host Utrice Leid as interim general manager. Since this "coup," the flagship morning program "Wake Up Call" has been canceled, 20 paid and unpaid staff members have been removed from their positions through firing, banning or indefinite suspension, and others remain under threat. Among her recent actions, Leid has dismissed Polk award winners Amy Goodman and Robert Knight from the successor program to "Wake Up Call," cancelled "Building Bridges: Your Community & Labor Report," and removed "Grandpa Munster" Al Lewis from "Al Lewis Live" and Deepa Fernandes from "Behind the News." Lewis and Fernandes allegedly violated the gag rule prohibiting hosts from discussing or allowing guests to discuss station business on-air, though pro-management producers have not been sanctioned for breaking the rule.

Concerned Friends of WBAI and Community for Progressive Radio (CPR) are groups of listeners, community activists and current and former station staff members dedicated to reversing the Pacifica takeover of WBAI. CPR focuses its work particularly in communities of color. The Campaign to Stop the Corporate Takeover of Pacifica is a national organization seeking to oust the corporate members of the Pacifica National Board and pave the way for democratic governance of the network.

Permission granted to reprint the pictures Diane Greene Lent photographed.


TRUE DEMOCRACY     Winter 2002     Copyright © 2002 by News Sourse, Inc.