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News Flash: Coup at WBAI Radio (99.5 FM)
Pacifica National Orders Locks Changed on WBAI Transmitter

Protest Attack on Local Control of WBAI Programming!

April 5, 2009

The Pacifica Foundation, which holds the license for peace-and-justice WBAI and four other community radio stations, has ordered the locks changed on the WBAI transmitter at the Empire State Building -- a blatant move to seize control of local programming. The action was ordered by Grace Aaron, the Los Angeles-based Chair of the Pacifica National Board, who doubles as the Foundation’s Interim Executive Director in the absence of a permanent E.D.

This is extremely serious -- it allows the new national controllers of Pacifica to directly program the station from any location. During the 1999 Pacifica coup at KPFA in Berkeley, programming was remotely piped in from Houston. It also evokes memories of Pacifica’s 2000 “Christmas Coup” when it changed the locks on WBAI’s studios and fired managers and staff. Also ominous is that this new step comes 3 weeks after the Pacifica National Board rejected a motion by Nia Bediako, Justice & Unity's sole representative on that board, to publicly discuss Aaron's idea of putting WBAI into "internal receivership"--i.e., a National Office takeover of the station. (See other side.)

On April 1, WBAI's General Manager, Tony Riddle, sent a memo to Aaron demanding an explanation for the sudden lock change. Aaron responded the next day with statements that further exposed the ruthless nature of her power grab. Two of Aaron’s answers to Mr. Riddle’s questions were quite revealing:

What is the purpose of this action? “Pacifica…is responsible for having access to all station signals to avoid legal risk.  Ricardo DeAnda, our interim General Counsel, has advised us that we need to be able to show the FCC that we can exercise our responsibility over our airwaves if necessary and, therefore, we have begun the process of assuring that the Foundation has this access at all five stations.”

This makes no legal or common sense: At every station, the General Manager is the professional hired and trusted by Pacifica to exercise supervision over programming “to avoid legal risk.” There is no need to create a remote-access means to “exercise our responsibility over our airwaves” unless Pacifica intends to fire or utterly disempower those managers, and impose its will on programming.

Why was I, the General Manager, not told?  “It was not my intention to withold this from you. I apologize for the fact that you have not heard this directly from me.”  The disingenuousness here speaks for itself. Of course, matters of this importance are only supposed to be arranged through the General Manager, the station’s chief administrator – unless there is another agenda.

Aaron justified her actions by citing the severe financial crisis facing WBAI and Pacifica and claiming with no evidence: “We have received complaints about programming that may be threatening the financial and legal health of the Pacifica Foundation.” Nowhere does she explain why “improving programming,” her claimed goal, requires overriding the station’s ability to make local decisions about what goes on the air.

Fight Back! EMAIL AND CALL PACIFICA TO MAKE YOUR PROTEST HEARD

* Send an email to the Pacifica National Board at pnb@pacifica.org -- which reaches each board member individually, including Grace Aaron. Please send a cc to info@justiceunity.org.
Demand that WBAI's autonomy & local control of programming be maintained & protected!
* Also call the Pacifica National Office in Berkeley at (510) 849-2590 with the same message.

* Speak out at the Local Station Board meeting on Wed., Apr. 15, 7 PM – for details, check wbai.org.

* Be prepared to mobilize to take action in defense of our precious community resource.

Stay updated with: THE WBAI JUSTICE & UNITY CAMPAIGN
(212) 591-2111 * www.justiceunity.org (join our email list there) * info@justiceunity.org

Help WBAI Survive – Become a Member ASAP!
Stop the Proposed National Network Takeover

For nearly five decades, WBAI Radio (99.5 FM) has been a vital platform for the communities and movements of the oppressed that are shut out by corporate media. You can hear the voices of Mumia
Abu-Jamal, Malcolm X, women fighting political brutality, and the music of Odetta and Nina Simone, just to cite a few examples. Now the station and its parent, the five-station Pacifica Network, are in the midst of a financial and political crisis. WBAI has rent and utility costs five times those of any other station. But more so than the other stations, WBAI has – for various reasons -- not been meeting its fundraising goals in several recent drives, leading to staff layoffs that have undermined the station’s functioning.

Recently a new majority on the Pacifica National Board has seized on these financial problems as an excuse to discuss cracking down on WBAI—or worse. The board’s four Houston members have called for WBAI to be sold outright or swapped for a smaller station. And Grace Aaron, the Los Angeles-based board chair, now also the acting Executive Director, has suggested putting WBAI into “internal receivership” (taking over the management of the station) and running the programming out of the Pacifica National Office in California. This would amount to a coup, the end of community control. On Mar. 8, the National Board rejected a motion to openly discuss this idea, thus continuing its secrecy in violation of its own bylaws.

The vote demonstrated the two camps in struggle: The motion for open discussion was brought by WBAI listener representative Nia Bediako of the WBAI Justice & Unity Campaign -- a multiethnic coalition of progressive community organizers and station staff -- that fights to maintain activist programming, particularly for communities of color. The other 3 board members from WBAI – listeners Carolyn Birden & Jamie Ross and staff member Kathy Davis – voted to maintain secrecy. (Birden later called receivership “one of several possible solutions to WBAI's problems.”) These 3 are aligned with the so-called independent/ACE faction whose leading voice -- multimillionaire and former marketing executive Steve Brown -- has waged a 7-year campaign of racist defamation against progressive WBAI Program Director Bernard White, demanding his firing as well as the removal of other committed Black activist producers.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

SPEAK OUT TO MAINTAIN COMMUNITY CONTROL of this precious resource:

  • Email the Pacifica National Board at pnb@pacifica.org and tell them you are dead set against any plan that removes local control from WBAI and its programming, and that any discussion of the proposal to do so MUST be held in public. Send a cc to info@justiceunity.org.
  • Come to the next meeting of the WBAI Local Station Board on Wed., Apr. 15, at 7 PM at a location to be announced (check www.wbai.org or call 212-591-2111), and let the board know what you think.

SUPPORT WBAI:

  • With the U.S. in a deepening financial crisis, WBAI more than ever needs the support of its generous

      listeners to remain free of corporate influence and control by outsiders. In addition, there will be 
     elections to the WBAI Local Board this summer and only enrolled members may vote. For both reasons,
     the Justice & Unity Campaign (now a minority on the board) calls for your support:

  • Become a WBAI member with voting rights by contributing at least $25 before June 15. Donate by PayPal online at www.wbai.org, or send your check or money order to: Pacifica Foundation-WBAI Radio, GPO, Box 30540, New York, NY 10117-2112. Be sure to include a note insisting that the money be used to maintain WBAI’s current local autonomy.
  • Or become a voting member by volunteering for 3 or more hours before June 15. Your work at key times can help WBAI realize thousands of additional dollars. Volunteers are key to our survival.
  • Tell your friends about the station and its dynamic, community-based programming.
  • Vote for the Justice & Unity Campaign slate in the upcoming election.

 

WBAI JUSTICE & UNITY CAMPAIGN
(212) 591-2111 * www.justiceunity.org (join our email list there) * info@justiceunity.org