News Flash: Coup at WBAI Radio (99.5 FM)
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 email@example.com -- which reaches each board member individually, including Grace Aaron. Please send a cc to firstname.lastname@example.org.
* 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.
Help WBAI Survive – Become a Member ASAP!
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
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:
listeners to remain free of corporate influence and control by outsiders. In addition, there will be