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Dueling NY Daily News op-eds: weigh in!

These two dueling op-eds, by Bessie Wash (probably written by Westhill Partners) and Leslie Cagan, appeared today in the New York Daily News. I've pasted them below, or you can read them online at:

It's important to write SHORT letters on-line to respond.
Go to: http://www.webforums.com/forums/f-read/add110.9.html

Thanks for alerting us to this go to Edwin Johnston, listener activist hero in Houston who was recently exonerated after falsely being accused of violence by KPFT-manager-and-current-WBAI-pitcher Garland Ganter.

Bob Lederer
Fired and banned WBAI producer


Edwin Johnston
Comment in forums
Thu Aug 30 10:14:08 2001

Click "Forums" at the end of the articles and then go to "Opinions" section. Comments need to be short or they will be truncated prior to posting. Advise to write your piece in "notepad" to save before final posting. Post away!

WBAI Must Change
With the Times


New York radio has lost another alternative voice now that WEVD has been sold to Disney's ESPN. In an era when commercial radio is a narrow mix of generic pop music and mindless talk formats, with local stations increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few corporate moguls, public radio is a more important alternative than ever before.Pacifica Radio, which includes New York's WBAI, has been providing that independent alternative for more than 50 years, daring to venture where other media would not go, challenging the status quo, celebrating free speech and producing truly progressive programming.

Sadly, Pacifica is in crisis, its future threatened by a small cadre of former staff and disgruntled listeners who resist efforts to adapt the network to the realities of an environment vastly different from that into which Pacifica was born in 1949 and matured in the '60s and '70s.

Their tactics reflect the very opposite of Pacifica's historic commitment to free speech and nonviolent civil disobedience, relying on hateful rhetoric and ad hominem attacks. They seek to demonize those who disagree with them as greedy corporatists and attempt to damage Pacifica by undermining fund-raising.

Their rhetoric has stoked violence at Pacifica stations in Houston; Berkeley, Calif., and here in New York. They have waged an aggressive campaign of intimidation against the volunteer members of Pacifica's board, threatening their families and livelihoods.

Such tactics have no place in the discussion of Pacifica's future. We are committed to a safe workplace for all our staff and will take action against harassment.

Lost in this clamor has been the need to ensure the long-term survival of Pacifica and community radio. In this era of media consolidation, Pacifica must stay relevant and keep pace with the issues that matter to the community here in New York and in the other markets we serve.

What worked for community radio in 1949 - or 1969 or even 1989 - won't work in 2001. We must modernize our vision and operations to meet the evolving information needs of the ever-changing communities we serve. Sound management and coherent programming, so long out of vogue at Pacifica, are not anathema to community radio. Indeed, without them we cannot fulfill our mission.

In the debate over Pacifica's future, nothing less than the survival of independent public radio is at stake. The corporate media behemoths would like nothing more than to see a group of valuable listener-supported radio licenses in five of the country's biggest radio markets undermined by internal bickering.

Pacifica will only survive as a true citizen's voice if those opposing change let the network respond to the evolving information needs of our listeners with sound management and socially relevant programming. If not, the self-appointed defenders of the status quo will burn down this remarkable on-air village to "save" it.

Wash is executive director of the Pacifica Foundation.

Original Publication Date: 8/30/01


Return WBAI
To Its Crusading Days


More than 50 years ago, Lewis Hill convened a group of people concerned about the role of mass media in an era of increasing military and corporate influence. Out of the meeting came the Pacifica Foundation and KPFA in Berkeley, Calif.

When WBAI here in New York City joined Pacifica 41 years ago, it took on the political commitments of its founders: community-based, corporate-free radio supported by listener donations and committed to challenging government and those in power.

Today, WBAI and the Pacifica Foundation are in the throes of a struggle that will determine if those principles will be honored or vanish in the face of corporate interests.

On Dec. 22, the executive director of the Pacifica Foundation, Bessie Wash, arrived at WBAI's offices with a locksmith. She installed an interim general manager, Utrice Leid, who went on the air to announce she was in control of the station. She reassured listeners there would be no program changes.

In fact, what has become known as the Christmas coup was the opening salvo in the step-by-step altering of WBAI. To date, 26 people have been fired, taken off the air, banned from the studios or have removed themselves voluntarily because they refused to participate in the gutting of the station. A climate of intimidation and harassment has been created through on-air name-calling and threats.

The situation at WBAI is just part of a much larger set of problems throughout Pacifica's five stations. The foundation's executive director and the present majority of the national board claim they seek only to broaden the audience.

Everyone involved with Pacifica would like to see our stations reach more people. But to pose the issue as a numbers game is to miss the real challenge: How do we bring Pacifica's cutting-edge programming to new, more diverse audiences? To concentrate on numbers and avoid the content of what we offer is to dilute the very principles Pacifica was built on.

The national board was once made up primarily of representatives appointed by the local advisory boards at each station. Two years ago, that was changed, and the board is now self-selecting and, therefore, less accountable to listeners. Several board members come straight out of the corporate world, bringing approaches that are shaped by the bottom line.

They say those of us on the other side of this struggle cling to old ideas and old ways of working. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Our struggle to save WBAI and reclaim Pacifica is based on our belief that the network mission demands a vibrant, constantly changing institution. There is no need to sacrifice our principles as we expand our audience.

We need a renewed commitment to democratic decision-making and programming that brings to the airwaves the voices of those struggling for justice, freedom, equality and peace.

In the face of increasing corporate control over the media and virtually all aspects of sour lives, this is a struggle we simply cannot afford to lose.

Cagan is a dissident member of the Pacifica National Board.

Original Publication Date: 8/30/01

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