The Christmas Coup at WBAI
text updated 3/19/01
March 19, 2001 Update
Brooklyn Greens Picket Pacifica Board Member Andrea Cisco's Home; 3 WBAI staff speak out against abuses
Report on the Brooklyn
Greens Protest In Front of PNB Member Andrea Cisco’s House
Friday, March 16th, 2001, 11:30 pm -- A couple of handfuls of activists gathered last night in the chilly drizzle in front of Andrea Cisco’s house at 98 Vanderbilt Ave. in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn. For 1-1/2 hours the multiracial group leafletted passersby, cars parked on the block, nearby coffeeshops, and every house on both sides of her block.
The police were cordial. By some twist of the dialectic, one of our Brooklyn Greens' elders, Dorothy Klein, realized that she knew the mother of the community relations officer assigned to us. They’d been in pretty hard-core anti-war groups together, and lots of humor bounced around about how could her daughter join the police force! There were no barricades and no incidents, although one cop wanted to know if Afrime had a bomb in her backpack. Then he cracked up laughing and said: “See, even cops have a sense of humor.” His supervisor told us he’d vote for Grandpa Al Lewis on the Green Party line if Al decides to run for mayor: “You’d be surprised how many police officers listen to his show on WBAI and love that old codger” he told us. Amazing.
We were also amazed that most everyone we encountered on this quiet street knew about WBAI and “the trouble at the station.” Every single person (including the police) was sympathetic to the fight against the Pacifica Board’s corporatization effort. One neighbor told us that she liked Andrea Cisco as a person, but she totally disagreed with what she was doing as a member of the Board. She chastised us for not adequately calling the press, and went inside and called NY1 and half-a-dozen other stations herself! Then she came back out and gave us a press list to call and fax. She took a pile of leaflets and distributed them to her neighbors, sliding one under Andrea Cisco’s door under the "couldn't care less" gaze of the two cops taking turns chatting with us.
Cisco was not home. Her neighbor told us that Cisco knew about the demonstration and had even told the neighbors about it. She'd also told them that she wouldn’t be home last evening to avoid discussion with us, which pissed off the neighbors who told us they felt she should listen to what we were saying. We hadn’t notified the police at all -- we rarely do -- but they told us they had been called by an unnamed person the previous night about the demo. Still, they first went to the incorrect address that I had “mistakenly” posted in the first email message (so, THAT's how they found out!) and stayed there awhile waiting for the demo that never came. (Ah, our little diversion worked! ;-) They also knew about CPR’s scheduled demonstration in front of Cisco’s house for Saturday March 17 at 1 pm.
All in all, a very low-key, easy to do, and successful event. (Only two windows were broken -- JUST KIDDING again, calm down! Such worrywarts in this movement!) Special kudos to Regina and her 10-year-old granddaughter who came all the way from Harlem, and to stalwart Dorothy Klein, who braved the elements again, just as she had in 1976 when WBAI broke the unionizing attempt going on.
Three WBAI staff members issued statements about abusive behavior from WBAI management/supporters last week. Ken Nash reported on his attempts to determine if his program Building Bridges, yanked mid-broadcast by IGM Utrice Leid on March 5, was indeed cancelled; Bill Weinberg of Moorish Orthodox Crusade issued a statement indicating that Leid and her supporters were using pretenses to intimidate him due to his reporting on the Pacifica Board meeting, and Dred-Scott Keyes sent a letter to staff detailing verbal abuse by Djabel Faye, Leid's public affairs director. Faye's "No Amy" guidelines (see 3/9 update below) led to the resignation of Mario Murillo ten days ago.
((( CALL TO ACTION BELOW )))
Informed sources say WBAI's interim general manager Utrice Leid officially fired eight-year *Wake-Up Call* co-host Amy Goodman yesterday from the embattled station's morning show. The move completes the purge of one of WBAI's most popular and progressive programs following the December "Christmas Coup" that led to the firing and banning of WBAI producers, the censorship of programming, and the installation of security guards at the listener-sponsored, community station.
In the hours following the take-over, Leid had said there would be no programming changes. Sources say Leid told Goodman that the *chemistry* between the morning show host installed after the take-over, Clayton Riley, and Goodman *did not work.* Leid had removed Goodman, and WBAI news reporter Robert Knight from *Wake-Up Call* in early February after sources say Goodman complained to the interim general manager that Riley had called Goodman a *bitch,* physically threatened Robert Knight and called him a *slave* for defending Goodman.
Reportedly, those complaints followed a series of abusive, hostile, and threatening actions by Riley on-air and off-air that staff and listeners had repeatedly complained about to WBAI management. UE Local 404 has protested the hostile work environment at WBAI, and called the firing and banning of more than 10 WBAI staff a *flagrant case of union busting.*
Pacifica listeners and staff nationwide have protested the moves as an attempt to depoliticize programming at WBAI, and to centralize control at the 52-year-old network's new headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Goodman and former *Wake-Up Call* host Bernard White, fired within hours of the December take-over, had built the morning program into one of WBAI's most important and successful shows. Goodman first aired her award-winning documentary *Massacre: The Story of East Timor* on *Wake-Up Call,* and the morning show has since won a number of awards, including a Golden Reel from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters for *Betty Shabazz: The Final Interview.*
The show's approach and content also reflected deep community roots. Please protest this retaliatory action against Amy Goodman.
Please call WBAI interim general manager Utrice Leid at 212-209-2800.
Demand the reinstatement of Goodman, along with all the fired and banned workers.
Call WBAI's on-air line at 212-209-2900.
Talk about the bannings on all WBAI shows, and especially on *Wake-Up Call.* Leid just spent 3 weeks asking for your money. Now is the time to ask Leid for the programming you paid for.
Major Owen's Speech; New "No Amy" Guidelines on WBAI, Mario Murillo Resigns
Rep. Major Owens spoke on the floor of Congress yesterday about the censorship at WBAI, and the threat Pacifica/WBAI management poses to free speech. He also set up a special e-mail address to take comments from listeners nationwide about the Pacifica issue, and the general issues of media monopolization by corporate interests. Please take a moment to send Rep. Owens an e-mail.
This morning at about 6:14, Marillo Murillo announced that he had been given new guidelines for the program, and that he had been prohibited from having Amy Goodman on his show this morning as he had planned.
His precise words, in a terse 30 second statement were:
"Amy Goodman will not be on the program today. She has been told...I have been told, I should say, she is not allowed to be on the program, on Wake-Up call, which makes it unfortunate for me, makes it very difficult for me. I'll talk a lot more about that later on. Namely, what I plan to do regarding that situation, which is most unfortunate because, again, I try to do the program a certain way and somehow, now, there's some new guidlines as to how I should conduct the program." (click here to hear audio clip)
At the end of the program he announced his resignation from Wake - Up Call citing censorship: that never before in his 13 years years at WBAI had he been told what guests he could or could not have on his program. Mario also sent a letter to the WBAI staff regarding his resignation
Free Pacificans from all over the country converged on the Pacifica National Board meeting to protest the actions of the Board and demand their resignation. The Board backed off for the moment on the by-laws changes proposed by John mUrdock of Epstein, Becker and Greed. Under the direction of a yet another PR firm hired with subscribers funds to lie to the public, the Board took a conciliatory stance. The motivation for this "kinder, gentler" Board was understood by those in attendance to be a PR stunt for the benefit of the Judge in the Pacifica lawsuits, and because the Board was one vote short of the 2/3 majority it presently needs to ram through their license to steal.
Then, in an act of overt censorship, Ken Nash and his guest Rep. Major Owens were pulled off the air mid-sentence by Utrice Leid, as they discussed the banning of his co-host Mimi Rosenberg and the general lack of democraatic process and free speech at WBAI and Pacifica. Building Bridges, WBAI's only labor program, which has been on the air for about two decades, was cancelled on the spot by Leid.
Leid's justification was that Nash and Owens were telling lies, and of course, she is the arbiter of what is true. Also, Leid claimed, Nash had violated her gag order regarding discussion of "internal policies." However, people expressing opinions about internal policies that are supportive of her are not banned.
Leid when on to air for the remainder of the hour to give her views, and argue with angry listeners. Among her remarks was the suggestion that Mumia Abu Jamal had been misinformed regarding the situation at WBAI which was the subject of his recent commentary.
Rep. Owens described the event as totalitarian, and vowed to make the statement he was prevented from making by Leid on the floor of Congress.
Yesterday, Pacifica station WPFW in Washington DC cut off a commentary by Mumia Abu-Jamal¹s in mid-stream just as he started talking about the December firings at Pacifica station WBAI. Shortly after the commentary was over, WPFW returned to Democracy Now!
Today, Pacifica station KPFT in Houston cut into Democracy Now! when host Amy Goodman said that she was looking forward to seeing people at the Pacifica National Board meeting at the Doubletree Hotel in Houston this weekend. Goodman also announced that she would be speaking Friday night at the MECA center on Kane St. in Houston.
Ironically, Pacifica executives had previously protested the censorship of Mumia¹s commentaries on Democracy Now! In 1997, WRTI-FM, a Philadelphia station with 11 affiliates across the state, canceled its contract with Pacifica Radio following the airing of an Abu-Jamal commentary on Democracy Now!
However, while Pacifica was issuing press releases portraying it as a fighter for freespeech, behind the scenes Pacifica executive director Pat Scott was pressuring Democracy Now! to remove the Mumia commentaries, WBAI's Program Director Samori Marksman reported to the WBAI local board.
And, getting the Mumia commentaries on the air in the first place had required a battle with Pacifica management which did not want them. Pacifica only put them on after NPR turned them down. But, producer Noelle Hanrahan revealed, they had been rejected by Pacifica before they were even offered to NPR.
The Pacifica Campaign is urging all concerned about free speech to protest these egregious acts of censorship which are being endorsed by a corporate clique that has hijacked the Pacifica Board. Call today for the resignation of all Pacifica Board officers.
1) Pacifica Board Chair David Acosta
A Houston CPA at a family firm, David Acosta¹s work number is 713-926-4604. His home number is (713) 660-8212. As a Pacifica listener, staffer and/or contributor, let your voice be heard. Please tell David Acosta that he -- and all Board officers -- must resign from the Pacifica National Board immediately.
2) Pacifica Board Treasurer Micheal Palmer
He is a Vice President at CB Richard Ellis in Houston, the world¹s largest commercial real estate services firm. Call his boss, Managing Director Will Penland, at 713-840-6501. Please let Mr. Will Penland know that Micheal Palmer is tarnishing the name of CB Richard Ellis because of the mismanagement and censorship at Pacifica Radio. Ask Mr. Penland to urge that Micheal Palmer resign from the Pacifica Board.
********************************************** Mailing Address: The Pacifica Campaign 51 MacDougal St., #80 NY, NY 10012 Tel: (646) 230-9588
CAMPAIGN UPDATE FROM JUAN GONZALEZ
The movement to oppose the corporate takeover of Pacifica made huge advances last week. Most important among those:
1) Demonstrations around the country at various offices of Epstein, Becker & Green, the anti-union law firm of Pacifica board member John Murdock, put increasing pressure on EB&G.
3) A major dent in the fundraising drive at WBAI in New York. The station normally raises from $900,000 to $1 milllion in pledges from its two-week January fund drive. Anticipating a poor response this year, interim station manager Utrice Leid, delayed the drive and reduced her goal to $800,000. But after two weeks of intense pitching, the station had managed barely $500,000. Faced with such a stunning repudiation by listeners, Leid extended the fund drive for another week, thus making the longest in WBAI history. The third week ends on Wed., Feb. 28th. We'll keep you posted on the final results at WBAI. Likewise, in Los Angeles at KPFK, we estimate that our compaign, which started late in the station's drive, reduced contributions by more than $50,000.
4) A federal district judge in California remanded two of the lawsuits against Pacifica back to California Superior court in Alameda County -- handing the Pacifica board a major defeat in its effort to delay a trial on the merits of the three suits against it.
Disrupt Epstein, Becker & Green Seminar on Anti-Labor Techniques
by Juan Gonzalez
New York City (Feb. 15), Posing as photographers for a GQ magazine shoot, free speech radio activists disrupted a Valentine's Day employment seminar hosted by the corporate law firm of Epstein, Becker & Green at the posh Manhattan Cornell Club on Wednesday.
EB&G, one of the top three law firms in the country specializing in union busting and hardball corporate litigation, has taken an active role in the destruction of the five-station Pacifica Radio network, the only independent media network in the country.
The Cornell Club seminar, titled "Surviving in the Labor and Employment Law Jungle," was interrupted just as the EB&G attorney was describing ways in which company managers can escape worker protection laws. A lone leafleter burst into the room, announcing to the 60 attorneys seated there that EB&G was guiding the union-busting activities of Pacifica Radio management and paving the way for the sale of stations in the 50-year-old network.
The conference attendees seemed generally receptive to the intrusion, and the EB&G lawyer dutifully launched into a description of the crisis at Pacifica Radio and at Pacifica station WBAI in New York where staffers have been fired and banned. A half-dozen hired enforcers closed in on the activist and he was hustled out by security.
Shortly afterwards, Shivers of the Ya Basta! Collective and his colleagues Shakes and Ms. Trembles posed as a fashion photography crew scouting sites for a GQ photo shoot. They were warmly welcomed by security. They thereupon set their voices against the amplified anti-worker litany of the EB&G counselor and distributed literature. They kept their comments to a couple of minutes before being escorted out of the building.
EB&G attorney John Murdock sits on the Board of Directors of the Pacifica Foundation, a non-commercial, listener-supported radio network. John Murdock has proposed changes to the Pacifica by-laws that will allow a small clique on the Board to sell one or more of the five Pacifica Radio stations without any accountability to other Board members or paid and unpaid staff, listeners and community. The proposed EB&G by-laws will permit Board members themselves to have a financial interest in the network, including getting remuneration from any sale. They will also allow the same small group to disburse surplus revenue from such a sale to other organizations.
EB&G also represents Pacifica in three separate California lawsuits challenging the aribitrary governance of the network.
Members of the Action Committee of the Concerned Friends of WBAI and the Campaign Against the Corporate Takeover of Pacifica (Pacifica Campaign) launched the action. A member of the People's Law Collective was present as a legal observer.
For More information, see http://pacificacampaign.org
of actions taken against EB&G: http://www.radio4all.org/freepacifica/murdock/feb2/feb2photos.html
& Robert Knight Fired from Morning Show
From: Juan Gonzalez firstname.lastname@example.org
New York, (Feb. 13) -- Robert Knight, long-term news anchor on WBAI's Wake-Up Call morning show, was told by WBAI's interim general manager Utrice Leid this morning that both he and Wake-Up Call co-host Amy Goodman have been removed from the morning show.
This move would complete the purge of WBAI's Wake Up Call on-air and off-air staff, which began with the firing of 20-year station veteran and Wake-Up Call Host Bernard White and Wake-Up Call producer and union-shop steward Sharan Harper. These firings took place during the "Christmas Coup" at WBAI-Pacifica when the network's national executives changed locks in the middle of the night and dismissed the station's management. They were followed by bannings of unpaid Wake-Up Call staff, including Janice K. Bryant, Cerene Roberts, Rosalie Hoffman and Rachel Barr. Thirty-year veteran programmer Mimi Rosenberg, news reporter Eileen Sutton and Ursula Ruedenberg have also been banned.
WBAI"s staff union, UE Local 404, has condemned these moves as a "flagrant case of union busting."
Interim General Manager Utrice Leid has also installed security guards, imposed a gag rule prohibiting on-air discussion of station business and has prohibited the public from entering the station for the listener-comment period of Local Advisory Board meetings. Many staffers say a climate of terror has been created at the station.
Amy Goodman and Robert Knight are WBAI-Pacifica most distinguished news reporters. Robert Knight received the George F. Polk Award for radio reporting on the 1989 US intervention of Panama. Amy Goodman has won the top awards in US broadcast journalism for her reporting in East Timor and Nigeria. Goodman's position as anchor of "Democracy Now!" remains unchanged.
PLEASE TAKE ACTION: Call WBAI, at 212-209-2950, during Wake-Up Call (7:00-9:00 am) and ask where are Robert Knight and Amy Goodman. Continue calling until the stations management answers your concerns about the firings and bannings. Call 212-209-2950, each morning from 7-9 AM Eastern time.
Banned, Goodman Censored
by Eileen Sutton
Veteran WBAI programmer, Mimi Rosenberg has been fired. Rosenberg received a letter at her home today by regular mail, dated February 5, signed by Utrice Leid, WBAI's interim general manager.
The letter in part, read: "Effective immediately, you must cease all your on air and on-site volunteer work at/or for WBAI or Pacifica generally. You are not to enter or attempt to enter WBAI's premises or participate in any WBAI activities. If you fail to abide by this decision, all appropriate action to insure that this decision is complied with will be taken."
Rosenberg, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society, has been on the air at WBAI for 32 years. Most recently, she has co-hosted "Building Bridges" with Ken Nash, a community and labor report. Rosenberg has also been the elected, unpaid staff rep to WBAI's Local Advisory Board for roughly 4 years. A lifelong radical, Rosenberg has been an outspoken critic of the "Christmas Coup" at WBAI, and a tireless advocate in the movement to reclaim both the station and the network from what many say are the corporatists now running Pacifica.
Informed sources say that Democracay Now! host Amy Goodman has been subjected to censorship during Pacifica's current national fund drive. Last week, Houston's general manager Garland Ganter would not allow Goodman to pitch for the last two days of Houston's fund drive. Sources say Garland was unhappy that Goodman referred to Juan Gonzalez in a previous pitch for the Houston audience. Gonzalez is Goodman's Democracy Now! co-host of five years who recently resigned on-air to launch a corporate campaign to unseat Pacifica's national board.
Souces say Garland referred to Gonzalez as a resigned employee who simply had an axe to grind with the organization. Garland was reported as saying that Goodman could not be trusted not to refer to Gonzalez when she pitched.
At Pacifica station KPFK in Los Angeles, sources say general manager Mark Schubb asked Goodman to condemn Gonzalez's statement of resignation. Goodman reportedly said she would not submit to a litmus test, and would not condemn a colleague she's worked with for so many years.
Sources also indicated Goodman's pitching was censored on KPFK. Apparently Goodman did not discourage listeners from pledging, and more importantly did urge listeners to get involved--particularly with the Local Advisory Board in Los Angeles. Reportedly she also suggested that listeners learn about the struggle in the network both locally and nationally. Goodman's mention of the LAB was then deleted from Tuesday's second airing of Democracy Now! over KPFK without her permission.
Sources say Goodman was called by Schubb Tuesday afternoon, who insisted Goodman submit a pre-recorded pitch for KPFK, which would then be screened and reviewed for content. Reportedly Schubb indicated that Goodman's references to Gonzalez, to the LAB or to Pacifica national were unacceptable. Sources say Goodman refused to be singled out in this way, and would not pre-record her pitch. Goodman was dropped altogether from the Wednesday pitch in Los Angeles.
It was reported by a listener that today KPFK used an old tape of Goodman, instead of having her pitch herself, although the tape was played as if it were Goodman live. The tape had to have been edited for time references and other news items that would have otherwise betrayed the age of the tape being used.
For a substantial chronology of the censorship throughout the network that prompted the strike against Pacifica Network News one year ago, see: http://www.savepacifica.net/strike/ (click Strike Demands).
REGIME AT WBAI?
A memo dated January 29, 2001 was distributed last week in staff mailboxes at WBAI. Addressed to "All Staff and Producers" from Interim GM Utrice Leid, it informed staff that they were to provide identification and contact information as "a first step in identifying all producers and staff prior to issuing station identification and credentials."
Some at the station are concerned about what purpose this information might be put to, as along with a form that requests home, work and e-mail contacts, staff have also been asked to provide a photocopy of a "legal picture I.D." such as a driver's license or passport. With the information contained in those documents, it is possible to obtain a great deal of personal information easily, including bank accounts, arrest records, medical records, immigration status and other confidential information.
The concern of abuse of confidential information is heightened by the precedent of the 1999 lockout at KPFA, where a security firm, IPSA International, which boasts that it's personnel have backgrounds with the FBI and other government security agencies, was given free rein inside KPFA where journalists' files containing sensitive information were accessible.
A representative of ADT, an international security firm that provides services such as access control and video surveillance to residences, businesses and government, was seen examining the premises following the Christmas coup.
LAB MEMBERS AND LISTENER-SPONSORS ARRESTED TRYING TO HOLD BOARD MEETING
AT WBAI, KPFA supporters
arrested at EBG
WBAI News and Free Speech Radio News reporter Miranda Kennedy reported the following , via cell phone, to banned reporter Eileen Sutton from the hallways of WBAI (the station is on the 10th floor at 120 Wall St.; )
At roughly 5:30 p.m., about 40-50 peopled gathered in the downstairs lobby of 120 Wall St.--listeners and local advisory board members--who were trying to go upstairs to the station to hold a scheduled meeting. (Please see release below for background). There was a restricted list on the ground-floor lobby of the building today; only producers with programs were allowed in.
WBAI's interim general manager Utrice Leid then allowed Joanne Bob, chair of the LAB, to go upstairs and act as go-between. She negotiated with Leid, and apparently the demands of the board were also read to Leid. The demands included the right to hold the meeting at the station--a 25-year tradition--and to preserve the public-comment period which naturally included listeners. It had apparently been decided in advance that if both LAB members and listeners could not enter, no one would go in, which is what Bob told Leid.
Leid then allowed only board members up. Leid said it couldn't be a public meeting because too many people created a fire hazard (this seems to contradict Leid's former statements about equipment-safety threats--see below). More negotiations ensued. Two women, both in wheel chairs--one now on the LAB, one formerly on the board--managed to get upstairs before anyone else. These two women had had some kind of altercation with Leid. They announced they were there for the meeting. They say Leid claimed she hadn't been told about the meeting, that she didn't have enough notice, that Leid only knew about it when she received a fax yesterday. The two women said Leid had been sent a certified letter 2 weeks ago regarding the LAB meeting at the station.
There were, at the start, 5 security men outside the door of the station on the 10th floor, as well as building security people downstairs, including the building's owner. NYPD were at first stationed downstairs, but they came up later--roughly 10 officers were inside the station. Later on, when things heated up, more arrived, for about a total of at least 20 officers in various locations.
At this point, Leid allowed a select group upstairs--board members (there are 20 in all), media, legal observers, listeners. The group came up in 3 elevator rides. She spoke to them outside the station. But once assembled on the 10th floor, Leid again said only board members could enter. She insisted she was not locking anyone out, that she never wanted to lock anyone out, and again invoked the fire-hazard dilemma.
People shouted and chanted for some time in the hallway: WHO'S STATION, OUR STATION, and the situation appeared quite tense.
At 8:00 p.m. the group was still negotiating, when Leid also said she wouldn't let the listeners in because there was a *banned person* among them. The culprit? Janice K. Bryant. When asked again why Bryant was banned several weeks ago, Leid was characteristically silent.
Another long-time community activist also had an altercation with Leid. There was yelling and supposedly name calling. This activist was then banned from the station--whether for the night or indefinitely, it wasn't clear. Leid once again vanished inside the station.
Then, with one security guard at the door, listeners tried to open the door of the station. At that point the NYPD came upstairs. Downstairs, there was still a sizable crowd in the lobby. The building owner then announced that those in the lobby had to leave because they were trespassing. Then more NYPD arrived. There were now a line of roughly 20 officers in the lobby of the building. All were cleared from the lobby, and the chanting continued outside in the street.
Then Leid came out a second time. The NYPD went into the station, spoke to Leid and one officer came out and spoke with members of the board. He said just the board could go in, and hold the meeting for one hour. And the door was opened.
Bruce Bentley then arrived from the National Lawyers Guild, with an update from the owner of the building, who said the owner would call the police, and charge anyone on the 10th floor with trespass and arrest if they stayed.
At one point, according to Kennedy, a community activist and listener tried to enter the station and was pushed against the wall by a WBAI staffer.
Everyone on the 10th floor was forced to disperse. As of this writing, 10:30 p.m., 9 people refused to leave and were in the process of being arrested. The two women in wheel chairs refused to leave as well, but the NYPD refused to arrest them.
Miguel Maldonado (board member) Vincente Panama Alba (board member) Janice K. Bryant (banned and proud) Ursula Ruttenberg (Concerned Friends heroine) Peter (Lower East Side brother) Steve Hardy Nickie Lieffers Donna Gould Howard Brandstein
Roughly 50 supporters
outside the station remained on hand. =========================================
The LAB, composed of diverse community leaders, has historically met at WBAI. Federal Communications Commission regulations require all such meetings to have a public-comment period open to listeners, many of whom are also subscribers. Leid has claimed that the public cannot be allowed entry due to "security threats" to herself and the station.
"Absolutely no evidence or documentation of these alleged threats has been forthcoming from Leid or Pacifica national," said LAB member Anita Dutt. "The listeners have a right to be present at the meeting, and they have a right to be at the station." The community-activist group Concerned Friends of WBAI, which has held several large rallies at the station in opposition to the midnight takeover has called for listeners to attend the LAB meeting, authorized or no.
Many say the move against the historically autonomous WBAI is reminiscent of the spring, 1999 lockout at Pacifica station KPFA in Berkeley, when thousands took to the streets. The actions against WBAI is also the fifth take-over by the Foundation since October 1993, when management shut down Pacifica station WPFW in Washington D.C. for ten days and seized control. Critics say the New York lock-down is part of a five-year program to mainstream the network and remove voices of political dissent.
community-sponsored Pacifica radio network has been a bastion of free
speech for over 50 years--from broadcasting Allen Ginsberg's "Howl," to
defying the McCarthyite congressional witchhunts, to airing the commentaries
of African-American death-row journalist Mumia Abu Jamal.
ARRANGEMENTS AT WBAI
The issue of security guards
at the station is still of vital concern to many. According to a
statement issued by several dissident
Pacifica national board members today, "It should be noted that
some of the people working as security at WBAI are off-duty NYC police
officers, who are required to carry their weapons at all times."
At a meeting of rank-and-file WBAI staffers this evening, it was noted
that some guards on the night shift might either be from the ranks of
the NYPD or from corrections, but it could not be confirmed whether or
not these guards are in fact carrying weapons. However, the chilling effect
of their presence is still of grave concern both to the staff and to guests
coming to the
Finally, someone from the Federal Communications Commission came to the station today. There has not been a FCC inspection of WBAI in nearly 25 years. Several violations were apparently noted, and it is unclear whether the station will be fined. It is also unclear why the FCC visited the station at this moment, and some are concerned it was politically motivated by forces seeking to change WBAI's course. When asked today, the FCC representative said the agency was responding to a complaint from "the public."
Please call and ask interim
general manager Utrice Leid about these issues: 212-209-2800.
Unpaid staffer Rachel Barr has been banned from WBAI. Rachel is also the 5th member of WBAI's popular morning show Wake-Up Call to be banned or fired since the take-over. As reported in Haiti Progres, interim General Manager Utrice Leid also attempted to fire Robert Knight recently from his morning-news spot on Wake-Up Call.
Knight is an award-winning producer of WBAI's "Earth Watch" and, along with Valerie van Isler and Bernard White, a twenty-year veteran of the station. Should management be successful in firing Knight as morning news anchor, only Amy Goodman would remain from the Wake-Up Call team that was in place before the take-over. To date, 3 paid staffers have been fired, and 4 unpaid staffers banned.
CENSORSHIP ALERT 1/8/01
WBAI producer Peter Bochan announced on the air this morning that his work has been censored. A 25-year WBAI veteran and award-winning producer, Bochan dropped off his year-end highlights reel to be played on New Year's day.
Bochan's year-end highlights program aired 3 times--once on New Year's eve, once on Democracy Now! on New Year's day, and again later that day, during Bochan's regular time slot. The first broadcast took place without any alteration of the program a few hours after Bochan dropped off the CD to station personnel. The second time, it aired on Democracy Now! after Amy Goodman made one minor edit, for which she got Bochan's explicit consent. The third time, the program aired during Bochan's regular time slot, on January 1st. According to Bochan, several alterations to his original program were made in the 3rd airing.
Bochan believes he was edited for content, and he affirmed that this is an accurate record.
According to Bochan, the removed sound includes interim general manager Utrice Leid's comments which she made on-air in the early morning hours of the December 23rd take over of WBAI. He said Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman's voice had also been truncated and altered as she spoke about the firings of White, Harper and van Isler.
"The party line from Utrice Leid and from Bessie Wash is that the programming is not going to be affected, that everything's going fine, that there's no gestapo here at the station, that it's an internal issue," Bochan said. "Meanwhile, it's the first time in over 25 years that I've ever had my program edited for content."
Bochan is widely respected in the music industry, and has won more awards than any other producer at WBAI. He has worked, among others, for ABC News, Amnesty International, Motown Records, US News and World Reports and Warner Bros.
This censorship is reminiscent of that which spread through the network after the KPFA/Berkeley lock-out in 1999. Then, to block stories about Berkeley, many say Pacifica managers fired producers, interrupted programs in mid-stream, sabotaged their own air sound, and arbitrarily cut-up programs like the national news. "Democracy Now!" is reported to have been pulled in mid-stream from Pacifica station WPFW because its host Amy Goodman was reading a front-page article from The San Francisco Chronicle on the crisis. At that time, Pacifica Executive Director Bessie Wash was WPFW's general manager.
Similarly, it is said that Pacifica's leadership refuses to put up on the Pacifica web site, or make available for sale, the July 14, 1999, edition of "Democracy Now!" because it deals with the KPFA lock-out. In Los Angeles, it has been reported that KPFK news director Frank Stoltz resigned in April 2000, citing, in part, the repeated breaches of journalistic ethics at his station. Stoltz told a public meeting in Los Angeles last year that he regrets not having resigned at the moment KPFK management interfered with his reporting on the Pacifica crisis in 1999.
"In Southern California, KPFK listeners could read about the [Berkeley] crisis on the front page of The Los Angeles Times, and in other major newspapers. But, they found little information on their own station. Management clumsily tried to keep it under wraps," wrote KPFK reporter and Pacifica stringer Robin Urevich. Urevich said KPFK General Manager Mark Schubb also objected to something she wrote in a small, weekly newspaper, Random Lengths, that was critical of Pacifica. Urevich says she was then banned from the station for a period of time.
Critics at the time also noted that The Nation magazine or The New York Times or The Economist or Le Monde Diplomatique recognized the news value of the 1999 Pacifica crisis. They pointed out that the censorship in Pacifica was not lost on The Washington Post, which referred to Pacifica's actions as "cowardly radio" and "Soviet-style journalism." The altering of Bochan's work is the first known act of content censorship since the take-over at WBAI began. It would appear the strike against Pacifica national that started a year ago to combat rampant censorship throughout the network was not in vain. For a complete Chronology of Censorship prepared by the striking PNN reporters, go to www.savepacifica.net/strike
December 22, at the start of the Christmas weekend, a coup took place at New York Pacifica station WBAI led by Executive Director Bessie Wash and former WBAI "Talk-Back" host Utrice Leid.
Leid has been named interim General Manager by Wash, and both Wash and Leid changed the locks on the station doors and individual office doors at roughly 11:00 p.m.
the firing of Berkeley station KPFA's general manager last year, several
weeks ago, WBAI's General Manager Valerie Van Isler was summarily
fired after 10 years on the job, and 20 years at the station. She was
told that her last day would be December 31. The events of this past weekend
effectively ended her tenure.
Many WBAI producers, as well as Leslie Cagan, a member of the national board, who went to WBAI Saturday morning, were refused entry. All through the day, only specific people whose names were on a list with front-desk security were allowed into the station, contrary to the usual open-door policy at the building.
All regular WBAI programming has been maintained for the moment, including portions of a previously-scheduled four-hour teach-in on the WBAI/Pacifica crisis, which was broadcast Saturday morning. Several dozen people held a vigil outside the lower-Manhattan studios of WBAI on Friday night, despite the freezing, 10-degree weather. Several hundred demonstrated Saturday afternoon, and producer Grand-Pa Al Lewis took a call on-air from Bernard White outside the station during the demonstration.
On Saturday, a memo from management was read over the airwaves twice, saying that White, Harper and van Isler were terminated, and that anyone who gave them entrance or facilitated their entrance to the station would be subject to severe disciplinary action.
Since Friday night, on air, Leid has insisted that this is an internal managerial issue that is being blown out of proportion. It is true that many producers at the station have had serious differences with WBAI local management over the years. But what is happening right now is much more serious and a much graver threat to WBAI than simply an internal personnel or personality problem.
On December 26, three more people were banned from ths studios of WBAI: Eileen Sutton, news volunteer, Serene Roberts, volunteer and Janice K. Bryant, morning-show producer. No reason was given.In a staff meeting this morning, Utrice merely said: "they know why they were banned. They did extreme things." She would not define these extreme things.
A fourth staffer, Rachel Barr, was banned on Wednesday. On Tuesday, Leid called the first staff meeting since the lock-out, which by all accounts was a grueling, contentious affair.
Security guards have been in place at the station since Sunday night and access to the station is still restricted. Guards have been reported roaming through the station at different times, using cell phones or walkie-talkies.
Many staffers say the environment is intimidating and tense. Many programmers on the air are openly expressing their concerns, and in some cases their outrage, at the Pacifica take-over. Some have been running educational programs to educate listeners about Pacifica's now pro-corporate national board. But, many have also expressed private fears that they may, at any moment, be taken off the air in retaliation for their views. So far, there is no official gag rule in place, though staffers say they were warned by Leid in Tuesday's staff meeting to show "professional responsibility" on the air.
Staffers say Leid chastised the on-air reporting of what she considers merely "internal personnel matters." They say Leid told programmers who discuss the crisis on air that they are "abusing the listeners' trust." A memo was also issued by Leid threatening "disciplinary action" should any staff member help White, Harper or van Isler get into the station. A vote taken at Tuesday's staff meeting to bring back White and Harper and reverse the firings and bannings numbered 20 in favor, no opposed, and 2 abstentions.
On Wednesday night, upwards of 1100 concerned listeners, WBAI staff and press packed a union hall in lower Manhattan to protest recent developments and get information. The standing-room only crowd heard impassioned speeches by many WBAI regulars, including Bernard White, Janice K. Bryant, Amy Goodman, Grand-Pa Al Lewis, Bob Fass and Robert Knight. Committee reports were also read by members of Concerned Friends of WBAI, which sponsored the event.
A large demonstration is being planned, and there have been daily protests outside the station.
Although there are conflicting press reports as to whether Wash or Leid made the decision to fire White and Harper, Wash recently said on the air in an interview with Leid that Leid now runs WBAI, and it is in her power to rehire both White and Harper if she so chooses.
Currently, White's possessions are being packed up and presumably will be sent to him. Of the 6 staffers so far ousted or banned, 4 are African-American, including the two top office-holders, White and van Isler. .
All the evidence suggests that Pacifica is exploiting some internal rifts amongst the staff in a power grab that could eviscerate the station and eliminate its base of progressive politics.
What is the evidence ?
For several months Pacifica has been trying hard to undermine host Amy Goodman and what many say is her courageous and politically audacious show, Democracy Now!.
After Nader appeared on the floor of the Republican National Convention, Pacifica erroneously blamed Goodman for it, and withdrew her press pass, preventing her from providing the same sharp coverage of the Democratic convention as she had for the Republican convention. Management then imposed a new set of "work rules" on her, including the demand that she provide them each week with "a list of possible shows the following week and a short status report on each."
It insisted that she could not have any volunteer producers working with her. (See Goodman's memo to Pacifica, On Pacifica has been interfering with WBAI's coverage of various controversial issues. For example, after receiving a complaint from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Pacifica upbraided van Isler for allowing coverage of the Palestinian Right-To-Return march in Washington D.C. on September 23rd, and demanded that Program Director Bernard White remove that program.
But most tellingly, the evidence lies in the current composition of the National Board. This celebrated non-profit, community-based, listener-sponsored radio foundation can now boast of serious capitalists on its national board: Pacifica treasurer Michael Palmer is developing maquilas in Northern Mexico. Pacifica vice-chair Ken Ford is a lobbyist for the National Association of Black Home Builders. Businessman Burt Lee has extensive experience buying and selling broadcast licenses. Executive Director Bessie Wash had nominated, to the board, Francisco Ricciola, Vice President of Citicorp for Africa and the Middle East. Elected to the national board this past February was John Murdock, a corporate attorney whose firm, Epstein Becker & Green, is known for "maintaining a union-free workplace."
Murdock has offered to rewrite the bylaws of the Foundation, and board-watchers expect these changes to be presented at the March 2001 national board meeting. Much of this happened because the National Board managed to rewrite various organizational bylaws, giving itself the power to appoint "at large" members and entirely bypassing the earlier structure of local advisory boards.
WBAI has through the years been under attack, and of late has helped fuel resistance--particularly through Democracy Now!--to the WTO, the death penalty, police brutality, violence in East Timor, to name a few. Ironically, this year, WBAI is finally in better financial health with its last record fundraiser of $900,000. Many feel the claim that station management needed to be replaced overnight in such a precipitate manner is disingenuous. This current move has to be recognized as an attempt by Pacifica to take control of the station, as it tried to do in Berkeley last year.
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