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Houston Chronicle article on Houston Action 3-2-01

March 3, 2001, 12:13AM
Radio station critics protest
Pacifica pickets say management censors political commentary
Copyright 2001 Houston Chronicle

Ignoring a light, chilling rain, dozens of protesters Friday picketed the southeast Houston office of Pacifica radio chairman David Acosta to demand his resignation and a return to more diverse programming.

The protest was the first of several scheduled this weekend as the left-leaning Pacifica Foundation's directors hold their annual meeting at the Doubletree Hotel at Post Oak.

Pacifica, which is riven by dissension as a result of programming decisions and management practices, operates five FM stations nationwide, including KPFT in Houston.

In a prepared statement, Acosta reiterated the foundation's support for "peaceful protest"

But, he said, directors have been harassed and threatened.

"A good portion of this harassment has been of a racist or sexual nature" the statement said. "These are not the tactics upon which the progressive movement in this country has been built and they must end"

Acosta was not at his office during the protest.

A continuing conflict at WBAI, Pacifica's New York City station, has resulted in the resignation or dismissal of producers and key on-air personalities.

Critics contend station management has censored political commentators, including Amy Goodman, host of the popular Democracy Now! program a charge a network spokesman denied.

"Something is terribly wrong" at the network, dissident board member Leslie Cagan contended Friday in joining the call for Acosta's resignation.

During a 30-minute sidewalk presentation at noon, speakers argued that political commentary and news on the network's Washington station had been replaced with jazz, outspoken on-air personalities had been harassed by management, and the 52-year-old network has abandoned its mission to provide a broadcast forum for radical voices.

"They don't want anything but your money," said Janice Bryant, a producer with WBAI's Wake Up Call. "They don't want your opinion. They just want your cash"

Pacifica dissidents have organized a drive to curtail contributions to the listener-supported stations.

Former KPFT official Rafael Renteria, now of Los Angeles, dismissed the Houston station as "reactionary" and "backwater."

"We used to broadcast in eight languages" Renteria said. "Now at KPFT, it's English only. What's the difference between English and whites only?"

Acosta was vice chairman of the Pacifica board in 1999 when a staff-management discord ended live broadcasting for several weeks at KPFA,the network's flagship station in Berkeley, Calif.

At the height of the dispute, hundreds of of protesters besieged the station and shots were fired. Guards were hired to keep protesters, including disgruntled staff, from entering the building.

Garland Ganter, general manager of the network's Houston station, was brought in to operate KPFA during the crisis.

Pacifica critics view changes at KPFT, at which some news and commentary programming was dropped in favor of musical programs, as a management model for the rest of the network.

Pacifica spokesman Fred Winters said programming changes at the network's stations have been designed to broaden its listenership in the "progressive community." The typical Pacifica listener now is a 50-year-old white male, he said.

"The Pacifica Foundation board and staff have been demonized and dehumanized in an atmosphere of intimidation and fear without any attempt to seek balanced or opposing viewpoints," Winters said. "There is no freedom of speech if the other side is not given an opportunity to respond."

Acosta and Winters denied that Pacifica directors will sell any of the network's stations, a rumor fueling much of the controversy.

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