Letter to Gary Null 6-28-01
Here posted, one listener's letter to WBAI producer Gary Null, who recently aired what he described as a special investigative report on the crisis at WBAI. Null's reply is also posted.
If Gary is sincere in his response, and he will indeed have a broad range of voices on his show, perhaps he's not totally in Utrice's pocket on this. Gary did have Bernard White on the air for at least 30 minutes, which much have upset Leid considerably. I wouldn't ever count on Gary to lead the troops anywhere, but if he's truly giving time to the other side, it's possible he doesn't believe Leid will survive. Is Gary Null yet another canary in the mine shaft? Time to pay extra close attention...
Subj: Your report on WBAI/Pacifica Crisis
Dear Mr. Null:
I was with interest that I listened to your interview with Bessie Wash earlier this week. I was rather surprised that you didn't follow up some openings she provided for hardball questioning.
For example, she presented the situation at WBAI, which resulted in the December 22nd station lockout and firing of Bernard White, Sharan Harper and Valerie Van Isler, as an internecine struggle led by a small number of discontents. I wonder why you didn't challenge this allegation of "small numbers" and link the struggle to a broader national picture.
I'm sure you must know that 12,000 listener-supporters turned out in the streets of Berkeley in July '99 to protest the takeover of local programming by the Pacifica Foundation, the station lockout and reprogramming of the KPFA transmitter. Some 4,000 individuals are signatories to the "listeners' lawsuit" to remove the members of the Pacifica National Board for violation of the Pacifica Charter under corporate law in California where Pacifica is incorporated.
I don't call these numbers "small". I believe the conventional wisdom is that every vocal response represents the sentiments of about 20 people in that individual's cohort.
Rather than ask if "she" had fired any other station managers, why did you not ask Ms. Wash if any other station managers had been fired? It was the firing of the popular station manager Nicole Sawaya, at KPFA, Berkeley, in - if I recall correctly - April '99 by then executive director, Lynn Chadwick, without notice and without consultation with the KPFA LAB, that resulted in a growing protest movement fueled by the subsequent firing of Larry Bensky, Pacifica national correspondent and former KPFA station manager, for breaking the "gag rule" on Sawaya's firing.
750 protesters turned out in front of KPFA to protest Bensky's dismissal. All-out opposition to the heavy handed moves by the PNB to stifle dissent concerning the Strategic Five Year Plan - which calls for central control, thereby subverting the mission of "community radio" - were triggered by the dragging of Dennis Bernstein from the KPFA newsroom by armed guards for reporting a press conference on the Pacifica crisis. Following this, all station staff were placed on administrative leave, the station was boarded up and the KPFA transmitter was reprogrammed. The aforementioned 12,000 people thronged the streets telling Pacifica to wake up and listen to its listener-sponsors.
And, speaking of the "gag rule" - that long-standing tradition of not airing station politics and employee dissatisfaction on air - how is it that while the rule is applied with no reservations to dissenting staff and, since December 2000, to the very listener-sponsors themselves when they call in to question or comment, Ms. Leid and her supporters in the station at BAI are given carte blanche to excoriate beloved personalities by name on air, to infantalize and insult listeners who do not agree with them and shut out balanced discussion of the larger issues of the PNB and its governing board? Why has there been no on-air presentation of Pacifica's Strategic Five Year Plan?
It affects what we will be hearing on the Pacifica Network and, after all, our listener dollars will fund these changes.
And, most egregiously, when Ms. Wash boasted of the increase of listeners at KPFT due to a format change to predominantly country music, why did you not ask her how a country music format fit with the founding principles of the Pacifica Foundation? For your convenience, I quote them below.
"In radio broadcasting operations to provide outlets for the creative skills and energies of the community; to conduct classes and workshops in the writing and producing of drama; to establish awards and scholarships for creative writing; to offer performance facilities to amateur instrumentalists, choral groups, orchestral groups and music students; and to promote and aid other creative activities which will serve the cultural welfare of the community.
"In radio broadcasting operations to engage in any activity that shall contribute to the lasting understanding between nations and the individuals of all nations, races, creeds and colors; to gather and disseminate information on the causes of conflict between any and all such groups; and through any and all means compatible with the purposes of this Corporation, to promote the study of political and economic problems and of the causes of religious, philosophical and racial antagonisms.
"In radio broadcasting operations, to promote the full distribution of public information; to obtain access to sources of news not commonly brought together in the same medium; and to employ such varied sources in the public presentation of accurate, objective, comprehensive news on all matters vitally affecting the community."
I know that you broadcast on Pacifica Radio, but I wonder if you understand Pacifica Radio? I recommend Matthew Lasar's excellent book, Pacifica Radio:The Rise of an Alternative Network.
I also suggest that you interview Carol Spooner, lead plaintiff in the "listeners' lawsuit", Larry Bensky or Dennis Bernstein, Matthew Lasar, Nicole Sawaya, and from the national news programming side, Verna Avery Brown and dissident board member[s].
Using the KPFT model, WBAI could adopt an all-country, all-jazz or all lite- listening format, and I am sure that we too could increase our listenership, but who would be listening? And to what purpose?
Subj: Re: Your report on WBAI/Pacifica Crisis
Thank you for your input. This is just the first effort. Many more voices will be heard in the next many weeks. I will be reinterviewing several persons. I will include several of your queries in those interviews.
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