OUTRAGED LISTENERS OF WBAI RADIO MARCH INTO STUDIO 6-4-01
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CONCERNED FRIENDS OF WBAI
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Rosalie Hoffman, 212-799-3207
ACTIVIST GROUP CONDEMNS VIOLENCE AGAINST REPORTER BY RADIO STATION STAFFER
Attack Followed Peaceful Protest by Listeners at WBAI Radio (99.5 FM)
An activist group campaigning to reverse the corporate-style takeover of noncommercial radio station WBAI (99.5) in New York has condemned Monday's violent, unprovoked attack by a station staffer on a visiting reporter. Minutes after the end of a short, nonviolent protest by 18 WBAI listeners inside the station, Kevin Prichard, a working journalist wearing prominent identification from the Independent Media Center and carrying a microphone, arrived seeking to interview station personnel about the just-concluded action. He was verbally and physically assaulted by WBAI News Department employee and producer Paul DeRienzo, according to published accounts. Prichard suffered a broken finger, cut lip and multiple abrasions. He was treated at St. Vincent's hospital and released Monday night. DeRienzo also destroyed Prichard's microphone and tape recorder. According to Prichard's attorneys, the reporter plans to press charges against DeRienzo.
Concerned Friends of WBAI, an eight-month-old multiracial coalition of listeners, producers and community activists seeking to restore WBAI and and its parent Pacifica Foundation to their traditional progressive mission, has consistently opposed the use of violence in the struggle between listener-sponsors and the Foundation's Board of Directors that has been hijacked by corporate and governmental interests.
In that vein, the Coordinating Committee of Concerned Friends of WBAI on Monday condemned Paul DiRienzo's unprovoked attack on a journalist engaged in the legitimate conduct of his duties. The Committee also expressed outrage at WBAI management's ongoing portrayal of the incident as an attack by Prichard, when in fact the opposite is true: A WBAI staff member, who has made threats against WBAI producers in the recent past, assaulted a journalist trying to get information about a peaceful event that had just occurred. This is the latest example of a flagrant double standard by management on the issue of violence, in which dissident producers are summarily dismissed after flimsy and unsubstantiated allegations of violent behavior, while documented acts of violence by pro-management staff are not even investigated, let alone punished.
Monday's protest at the station was carried out by an ad hoc group calling itself LOUD RAPP (Listeners Outraged, Upset and Determined to Restore a Progressive Pacifica). According to a statement LOUD RAPP released after being unable to read it on the air, the activists entered the station to express their outrage at the "sharp rightward political turn in programming and attacks on workers' rights" at WBAI. By all accounts, the group's activities during the short protest-which included chanting, an attempted banner hanging, and passing out written statements-were completely nonviolent. The listeners left the station without incident when asked, and there were no arrests. The LOUD RAPP event was not an action of Concerned Friends of WBAI or any of its committees. Nevertheless, the Coordinating Committee of Concerned Friends expressed strong support for the right of listener-sponsors to free and open access to WBAI and all Pacifica stations, especially to convey their opinions on the crisis afflicting the network, which receives 85% of its funding from listeners.
The Coordinating Committee also supported the demands made by LOUD RAPP in its statement, namely: the restoration of all cancelled progressive programming; the return of the fired and the banned WBAI programmers and staff; the immediate restoration of the award-winning news show "Democracy Now!" to WBAI's airwaves; the elimination of the WBAI gag rule and all forms of censorship in the Pacifica network; a two-hour on-air forum to discuss the Pacifica crisis with representatives of both sides; and the resignation of WBAI interim general manager Utrice Leid, with her replacement to be selected via a transparent and democratic process.
Here's the audio from WBAI's air this morning during the
demonstration when 18 listeners entered WBAI studios
ACTIVISTS ENTER WBAI
Calling from the street, an activist named John contacted Errol Maitland who was hosting WBAI in Exile, a radio station that broadcasts over the Internet. He gave Maitland this report:
At 8:57 this morning, 18 activists entered WBAI. Someone within the station shouted to call the police, to call 911, as the last activist entered the premises.
The activists proceeded toward master studio where 3 activists then entered and began chanting. Another group of 3 also attempted to hang a banner and they opened a window. However, security was pretty tight and they were not able to drop the banner.
John said a large man came and grabbed the banner and threw it across the room along with other supplies there for the banner drop. John said they were ordered out of the station and threatened with bodily violence if they ever returned. John said it was a non-violent action, though the man was described as hostile.
On the air when the activists entered the station, host Marjorie Moore was noticeably shocked and reacted without cutting the mic. She shouted "who are those people." She is now, at 9:09 a.m. on the air with Public-Affairs Director Diabel Faye and Diabel is discussing the incident. He is insisting that the activists came to "take over the station." Yet according to John, there were no attempts to occupy master studio and the activists left when asked to leave.
The activists hoped to read a statement of support for the station decrying the censorship and bannings at the station, and calling for the resignation of Utrice Leid. John said there was not a chance to read the statement on the air, though John read the statement in its entirety while speaking with Maitland.
Kevin Prichard, an Indypendent Media reporter covering the action, has just reported over www.wbix.org that he was assaulted by WBAI stffer Paul DiRienzo. He says DiRienzo also threw Prichard's equipment. The police were on the scene, but there were no arrests.
There have been daily vigils at WBAI, and this morning as well, musicians were playing out front and about 15 folks were giving out literature.
June 4, 2001
OUTRAGED LISTENERS OF WBAI RADIO (99.5 FM)
New York: At 9:00 a.m. on Monday, 18 irate listeners to noncommercial radio station WBAI (99.5 FM) marched into the station chanting "Take back WBAI!" and "Restore Progressive Radio!" Several interrupted WBAI's Morning Show demanding a reversal of the sharp, rightward political turn and selective censorship of programming, as well as an end to attacks on workers' rights. Some protesters attempted to hung a 30-foot banner reading "Save Progressive Radio" from the 10th floor studio at 120 Wall Street, while other members of the group distributed flyers with their demands to a surprised staff. WBAI is a public radio station in the listener-sponsored Pacifica Radio Network, which consists of this station and four others in Berkeley, LA, Washington, DC and Houston.
The non-violent group calling itself LOUD RAPP (Listeners Outraged, Upset and Determined to Restore A Progressive Pacifica), which organized the protest, insisted that programming at the Pacifica Network return to its progressive founding mission. The group demanded that WBAI Interim Station Manager Utrice Leid schedule, within two weeks, a two-hour on-air program hosted by the station's Local Advisory Board to discuss the crisis at WBAI/Pacifica. The program would allow both sides to present, including representatives of WBAI management, staff and listeners. The group also demanded the resignation of Ms. Leid and a reversal of what they called the purge of leftist programs and programmers undertaken by her since her installation by the increasingly corporate-led National Board of Pacifica in a late-night coup on December 22, 2000.
According to Miguel Maldonado, a listener activist (and also chair of WBAI's Local Advisory Board), "Since the coup, Ms. Leid has removed or pre-empted some of the most progressive, critical and popular radio programs from the air, replacing them with bland, New Age material and in the past month, at least three programs based on right-wing, anti-semitic conspiracy theories." One of the programs currently pre-empted in New York is Democracy Now!, an award-winning daily national news program showcasing voices of dissent. In addition, Ms Leid has fired or removed 21 producers and staff members, imposed selective on-air censorship, and is trying to impose a new labor contract that removes all unpaid producers - who comprise the vast majority of programmers - from legal protection.
For more than 41 years, WBAI has been New York's cherished outlet for progressive issues and community concerns rarely heard on mainstream media. Today's action is part of a rising crescendo of criticism of the current management, including a very effective listener-led boycott of WBAI's current three-week on-air fund drive, on which the station depends for 85% of its revenue.
A Press Statement from Kevin Pritchard's Legal Team
by Kevin Pritchard's Legal Team 10:14pm Mon Jun 4 '01
An update on Kevin Pritchard, the NYC-IMC (Independent Media Center) reporter who was assaulted earlier today by a WBAI employee.
This press statement was released by Kevin Pritchard's legal team earlier this evening.
Kevin Pritchard visited the studios of WBAI this morning to interview staff and volunteers about the station's recent troubles. He was alone.
Upon presenting his New York City Independent Media Center press credentials to one Paul DiRienzo, Pritchard was physically and verbally assaulted without provocation. He also sustained $300 in damage to his audio equipment. He is currently being treated at St. Vincents Hospital for a badly sprained or broken finger, a cut lip and multiple abrasions. He intends to press charges against DiRienzo later today.
That a working member of the press was attacked by a current employee of WBAI is a sad commentary on the recent direction of the station.
Statement From WBAI protesters
Text of statement the 18 WBAI protesters intended to read when they marched into the WBAI studios on Monday June 4.
LOUD RAPP (Listeners Outraged, Upset and Determined to Restore A Progressive Pacifica)
We are a multiracial affinity group of WBAI listeners who are nonviolently disrupting what has become business as usual here because we love the station, and we urgently want it to return to the beacon of progressive information and culture that it was until recently. For five months, Pacifica has hijacked that station from its progressive mission, and we've had enough. Here are just a few of the reasons we are so outraged:
1. National and local Pacifica management have shown complete contempt for the listeners, who have locally supported WBAI for 41 years.
We are bombarded by management diatribes which falsely paint progressive, multiracial organizations seeking the restoration of Pacifica's mission as violent and racist. Yet no accusation of violence has ever been substantiated; indeed, all have been contradicted by eyewitnesses. In addition to the leadership of the 11 fired WBAI Staff members of color, the broad movement to restore a progressive Pacifica has the involvement and support of many respected organizations and individual activists in communities of color, both locally an nationally.
Through the gag rule prohibiting discussion of station policy-which is only enforced against critics of management-listeners are denied information and opinions, including our own, that are critical of the momentous changes at the station we financially support. Meanwhile, WBAI producers and even news reporters are threatened with dire consequences, including silencing mics, for reporting on public discussions of these issues by bodies such as the New York City Council and the U.S. Congressional Progressive Caucus.
2. Programming in the largest-audience slot, the morning show is moving increasingly in a mainstream, even right-wing direction.
Three times this past month, host Majorie Moore has featured- unopposed-Jim Marrs, a well-known anti-semitic neofascist who rails about the societies of the Masons and the Rothchilds of the "Hebrew Race." Chip Berlet, the respected coauthor of the book Right Wing Populism in America, calls Marrs "a purveyor of conspiracist narratives historically used to justify oppression against people of color, Jews, feminists, gays and the left." During the current drive, Ms Moore gave Mr. Marrs four hours of airtime and raised thousands of dollars with his book.
In recent weeks, other morning show segments have included the Democratic National Chair, unopposed, spouting party-line rhetoric; and a spokesman for Sprint singing the praises of cell phones and dismissing the growing data and health risks. By contrast, the grassroots, community-based coverage of activists issues and events of particular concern to people of color, such as police brutality, political prisoners, prison abuses, foster care, and workers' rights, are now a rare presence in the morning.
3. WBAI has been the sole Pacifica station to remove Democracy NOW! from the air during the entire three-week pledge drive, under the guise of "normal pre-emption."
Management's stated reason-that Amy Goodman is reluctant to raise funds-is belied by the fact that Ms. Goodman has, during the same spring fund drive, willingly raised thousands of dollars for Pacifica stations KPFA (Berkeley) and WPFW (Washington, DC). KPFK (Los Angeles) had pre-empted the program for most of the drive, falsely accusing Ms. Goodman of refusing to raise funds, until a threatened demonstration by listeners forced management to relent. That rally was held anyway last Thursday with a large turnout. A similar rally here at WBAI brought out more than 250 listeners demanding the immediate return of this hard-hitting international affairs program.
The removal of Democracy NOW! is just the latest in a four-year campaign of harassment and villification by Pacifica management, exposed back as far as 1997 by the late Samori Marksman, WBAI Program Director, who warned that Ms. Goodman was being pressured to stop airing the commentaries of Mumia Abu-Jamal and to tone down her guests' criticism of the Clinton Administration. Ms. Goodman's union, AFTRA, has filed grievances charging management with harassment and attempted censorship.
4. Twenty-one producers and staff members-all critics of Pacifica policy-have been fired, banned or removed from programs since Ms. Leid was illegitimately installed by Pacifica on December 22nd.
All of these actions have violated either written Pacifica policies or union protections. Ms. Leid has rejected or ignored numerous grievances filed by the WBAI staff union and is now seeking to remove all unpaid staff from the bargaining unit in an attempt to crush the union. This offensive is part of a national purge by Pacifica over the past decade of over 300 staff members, many of them leftists and people of color. Driving all this is a national Board of Directors increasing dominated by representatives of corporate interests that stand fundamentally against the basic values of human rights and equally for which Pacifica has historically provided a voice.
5. Four important and popular public affairs programs-Wake Up Call!, Building Bridges: Your Community & Labor Report, Al Lewis Live! and the Wednesday edition of Behind the News, covering Asian issues-have been permanently cancelled.
This follows the removal of the producers, with no replacement programming on the vital progressive issues that these programs covered so well. These cancellations were done in blatant disregard for union rules requiring proper notice and consultation with the Program Council.
1. The restoration of all WBAI programs removed since the December 22 coup, and an end to the rightward and mainstream turn of programming.
2. The reversal of all firings, bannings and removals of producers and staff since the December 22nd coup.
3. The immediate restoration of Democracy Now! to WBAI's airwaves, and an end to all harassment and attempted censorship of Amy Goodman.
4. The elimination of the gag rule and an end to all forms of censorship.
5. A two-hour, on-air program within the next two weeks, produced and hosted by the WBAI Local Advisory Board, on the crisis at WBAI/Pacifica, with guests representing both side of the issue, including listener and staff representatives, as well as time for listener calls.
6. Finally, for the good of the station, Utrice Leid should resign as Interim General Manager and be replaced thorough a transparent and democratic process.
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