Free Pacifica groups respond to
the new illegitimate boss
Note: The following statement, signed by 10 free-Pacifica groups from all 5 listening areas, was written and endorsed before the October 25 announcement about the initiation of mediated settlement discussions between the Pacifica National Board and plaintiffs in the lawsuits against the Board. A copy has been sent to all members of the Board.
Statement from Free Pacifica Groups - 10/24/01
PACIFICA NATIONAL BOARD CHAIR ROBERT FARRELL'S "PEACE INITIATIVE": FACT OR FICTION?
On Sept. 19, the Pacifica National Board held a telephone conference call in which the illegally seated majority padded its diminished ranks with five new members and named Robert Farrell chair. On Sept. 27, those listeners still tuning in to the Pacifica Network News heard a brief broadcast statement from Mr. Farrell on "our new reality" in the post-Sept. 11 world and the part Pacifica can play in it (a transcript of which is pasted below). While some in the Pacifica community have taken this as a good-faith offer to begin to resolve the longstanding conflict, we have a very different analysis.
Mr. Farrell called his statement a "peace initiative," but that phrase - and the statement as a whole - amounts to little more than spin. He asks the Pacifica resistance movement to cease its struggle, the dissident board members to drop their lawsuit, and the listeners to pledge their money, while offering absolutely nothing in return except for obfuscation and barely veiled flag-waving.
Certainly, we want "Democracy Now!" and the striking Pacifica Network News stringers returned to the air, as Mr. Farrell has called for, but only if their grievances are fully resolved. And of course we continue to demand much more than that. The fired and banned at WBAI and other Pacifica stations must be brought back, and the "gag rule" must be lifted. Most importantly, we need to democratize the governance structures on both the national and local levels to prevent what has happened to the network from ever happening again.
Set forth below are Mr. Farrell's key points, followed by our replies:
1) "We need to field the best team available as we use our airwavesS[My initiative] brings familiar voices back to our airwaves."
As the monolithic corporate media fans the flames and enthusiastically beats the drums of war, we of course agree with Mr. Farrell that a revitalized Pacifica should provide "commentary and analysis of the war and its consequences put in historic, economic, and political context as a guide to civic and political action." That has been Pacifica's historic mission, from McCarthyism to Vietnam, from Iran-Contra to the Persian Gulf War.
However, we question the genuineness of Mr. Farrell's statement given the following incidents, just the most recent in a long line of disturbing efforts at censorship and suppression of progressive voices by Pacifica management:
a) Amy Goodman's broadcasts of "Democracy Now!" from near Ground Zero are still barred from Pacifica's airwaves (except on the courageous KPFA in Berkeley).
b) On the weekend of Sept. 22-23, outgoing WBAI interim general manager Utrice Leid ordered the station's producers not to discuss the World Trade Center tragedy and to instead play "healing" music.
c) On three occasions in the weeks following the September 11 attacks, WBAI's "Asia Pacifica Forum" was prevented from going on air with a program that dealt with pro-war, anti-immigrant hysteria and provided critical information and advice to the communities under attack.
How do any of these acts square with a genuine intention to let Pacifica provide unique, alternative coverage of the joint crises of global war and domestic racism?
In the face of the new crisis facing our nation and the world, we need a Pacifica committed to fighting political repression, exposing corporate wrongdoing, and resisting military intervention. Pacifica was born out of opposition to war and the domestic repression it engenders. What has made Pacifica's coverage noteworthy in recent years is that many of those banned and fired from all 5 stations over the past decade were and are activists who used their knowledge and skill as engaged journalists. They are the ones who can give listeners access to unique perspectives ignored by the mainstream media and engage the listeners in taking principled action. Yet for months, despite repeated protests by a huge range of listeners, community organizations, academics, religious, labor, and political leaders and members of Pacifica's local and national boards, Pacifica has continued to cancel, suspend or pre-empt some of the most acclaimed progressive public-affairs programs, particularly at WBAI.
Here in New York, imagine what we could be listening to instead. Bernard White on "Wake-Up Call," serving as a lifeline to local activists fighting war and injusticeSThe inimitable reportage of Polk Award-winner Robert Knight, whose mettle was tested by his coverage of Contragate and the invasion of PanamaSKen Nash and Mimi Rosenberg on "Building Bridges: Your Community and Labor Report," highlighting the current crisis' impact on workers and the mounting layoffs from the quickly developing recessionSGrandpa Al Lewis focusing on the prison industrial complex, now filling up with hundreds of "suspects" caught in the FBI dragnetSBob Lederer on "Health Action," reporting on the health effects of the polluted air near Ground Zero, and of the disastrous health consequences of a major war on the people of Southwest AsiaSand a host of other insightful, progressive -- and now silenced -- voices.
And then there are the hundreds of other progressive programmers (many of them African-American, Latino, and other people of color) that have been "disappeared" from the airwaves by Pacifica management in Los Angeles, Berkeley, Houston, and Washington over the past eight years.
The network will not be able to fulfill its historic mission at this crucial time if it uses as a model WPFW in Washington and KPFT in Houston, which now play mostly music and have been stripped of significant public affairs content. Rather, Pacifica management should look to KPFA's current coverage of the crisis and to the way WBAI performed before last December's coup.
2) "I am asking Amy Goodman to come back to a supportive Pacifica."
Amy Goodman never left Pacifica -- it is Pacifica management that has barred "Democracy Now!" from the airwaves, and ignored an August letter from a majority of Board members urging that the program be immediately restored. We further question the sincerity of the offer given that Goodman's chief persecutor, Utrice Leid, was recently promoted to be her boss as national program director. The elevation of the person who drove Goodman out of WBAI's studios by a campaign of intolerable technical and verbal harassment, and finally physical assault, can hardly be interpreted as a sign of good faith. The staff of "Democracy Now!" has recently sent the Board (and released publicly) a detailed memo documenting the many months of abuse and attempted censorship with which they have had to deal (and for which numerous grievances are pending through their unions). All of these issues must be addressed if this Board is serious about returning "Democracy Now!" to the airwaves.
3) "I am askingSthat the Pacifica network news stringers end their strike and return home."
Mr. Farrell has not even acknowledged, never mind disavowed, the rampant censorship within the network that prompted the strike by many Pacifica Network News (PNN) stringers in January 2000. This included repeated efforts to pressure PNN not to cover the Pacifica crisis, and the November 1999 removal of PNN Director Dan Coughlin after he aired a 30-second news piece about a one-day boycott by Pacifica affiliates. The striking stringers have since gone on to launch the very successful Free Speech Radio News - now a strong competitor to PNN. Mr. Farrell's plea for the stringers' return is presumably in recognition of the fact that PNN's nightly broadcast, with its watered-down, mainstream-style coverage, is now but a shadow of its former self. The number of affiliates carrying the program has plummeted by more than two-thirds, and 15 of the 49 stations now carrying FSRN instead recently formed a group calling itself "Affiliates in Exile," having suspended their payments to Pacifica.
4) "[Under my proposal], we handle our grievances and differences internally."
This makes it clear that the "gag rule," which prevents the discussion of the vital issues of how the Pacifica Network is run, will remain in place. That rule, besides being a blatant form of censorship aimed at quashing dissent, creates the absurdity that major issues of public broadcasting structure, content and politics, as well as workers' rights, are repeatedly covered by mainstream TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines, yet are forbidden on Pacifica. The gag rule must be revoked.
5) "I am asking Sthat the Pacifica Campaign pause in its activitiesSI will ask board members who are suing Pacifica to please reconsider their suits at this time. I believe that the expressed concerns of station managers, staff, volunteers, and listener-subscribers past and present can be addressed and resolved..."
One recent action that belies Mr. Farrell's professed belief in addressing the concerns of staff and listener-subscribers is the unilateral appointment by Executive Director Bessie Wash of WPFW (DC Pacifica station) jazz programmer and operations director Robert Daughtry to be general manager of WBAI. As with the elevation of Utrice Leid last December, this action was taken with absolutely no consultation or consent from either the WBAI staff or Local Advisory Board, contrary to longstanding practice.
Without a commitment - at all five stations -- to lift the gag rule, bring back the fired and the banned, remove station managers appointed by Pacifica without local community input, and most fundamentally, undo the board's illegal by-law changes and allow a meaningful role for democratically elected Local Advisory Boards so that such a top-down purge can never occur again, Mr. Farrell's claim to be sensitive to listener and staff concerns is mere rhetoric.
This is particularly so in light of Mr. Farrell's participation in the recent illegitimate "restacking" of the Pacifica National Board. The very process that promoted him to chair and selected new board members was held at a non-public meeting (in violation of federal law), was undemocratic, and usurped the board's own procedures.
For all of these reasons, we support the continued important efforts of the Pacifica Campaign and of the litigants in the four lawsuits (by listeners, local advisory board members and National Board members) against the Pacifica board majority seeking to obtain the removal of the illegally seated Board members and the institution of democratic procedures for governing the Foundation.
6) "We must all come together to fund and finance our future."
Mr. Farrell calls for listeners to rally around the Pacifica flag in this time of global crisis and pledge their hard-earned money to the network during the upcoming October fund drives. We believe that when Mr. Farrell exercises, as he promises, his "fiduciary responsibilities" by calling for "independent organizational audits," those audits will disclose that Pacifica's finances are in a perilous state. How could they be otherwise, with uncounted thousands of dollars spent in recent years on high-profile law firms, public relations experts, union-busting consultants, armed security guards, lavish spending on travel and accommodations, and Orwellian surveillance systems?
There is no question that the upcoming marathons will be a referendum on the future of Pacifica. Given management's outrageous waste of listener funds and the continued degradation of program quality -symbolized most egregiously by the continued refusal to air "Democracy Now!" when it is doing outstanding coverage of the current crisis-- we think we know how the vast majority of people will vote. Caught between the boycott and the lawsuits, the new Pacifica chair and his fellow usurpers may find that it was easier to "restack" the board than it will be to trick the listenership.
Concerned Friends of WBAI Coordinating Committee
TRANSCRIPT OF SEPT. 27 BROADCAST STATEMENT BY PACIFICA NATIONAL BOARD CHAIR ROBERT FARRELL
The peace initiative that I announce today is an exercise in leadership to expedite the process of our reunion and focus our attention on our new reality as of Sept 11, 2001. It brings familiar voices back to our airwaves; we handle our grievances and differences internally; and we request the continuing confidence and support of our many listener-subscribers in the Pacifica leadership. It establishes a Pacifica role in the American led response to the terrorist war brought so violently to our country. These activities can be accomplished in the near future. They are in response to our national crisis.
I want a unified Pacifica. We need to field the best team available as we use our airwaves, so I am asking Amy Goodman to come back to a supportive Pacifica; that the Pacifica Campaign pause in its activities; and that the Pacifica network news stringers end their strike and return home. And I will ask board members who are suing Pacifica to please reconsider their suits at this time.
I'm currently in Washington, D.C., to meet with the Executive Director and our counsel on the state of affairs of the Pacifica Foundation. I will use this information and a series of proposed policy matters already prepared by our Executive Director and Board member recommendations for a report on the state of the Pacifica Foundation. I will obtain independent organizational audits of Pacifica as we address our management oversight and fiduciary responsibilities. I promise our listener-subscribers that as materials are prepared for board discussion that they will be posted on our website and that we will develop and use our airwaves and the internet to seek their concerns and comments.
As we take this path we must begin to define Pacifica's unique role as America sets forth on its war on terrorism. Central to that role is Pacifica Network News and the way that we approach national programming on our airwaves. I believe that the expressed concerns of station managers, staff, volunteers, and listener-subscribers past and present can be addressed and resolved when considered in the context of the international crisis that we face today.
To support our board and staff in dealing with the new reality I will establish an independent panel as advisors in the vital role of management of Pacifica Network News. It will be supplemented by experts with knowledge of the lands and people most immediately effected in this, the first world war of the 21st century.
I want to thank our station managers and staff, paid and volunteer, for their services and contributions to Pacifica. I appreciate that support. I want to express my appreciation again to you, our listener-supporters, who make the Pacifica Foundation, its airwaves, management and our leadership opportunities possible.
Now, we will be coming to you again soon, as is our custom and obligation, for financial support through our fund drives and special appeals. We must all come together to fund and finance our future. The Pacifica Foundation and community that will engage the new international war and its consequences will require our giving - mine, yours, and all the members of the Pacifica family.
What you can expect to hear in the near future is our support and encouragement of people like the courageous Representative Barbara Lee, advocate of a Department of Peace, Representative Dennis Kucinich, information and news concerning the campus awakenings as a new generation expresses its concerns about war in more than 120 locations across the country; commentary and analysis of the war and its consequences put in historic, economic, and political context as a guide to civic and political action.
What we will also expect of you is your continuing support and participation as we review the vision and role of Lew Hill and use that as a guide in our own transformation of Pacifica in this present day.
Thank you very much.
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