Jun
01
2001

Censorship at 'Free-Speech Radio'

Pacifica stations delete information about the network’s crisis

The Pacifica radio network has been known for decades as the home of "listener-sponsored free speech radio." But recent incidents in which Pacifica stations have failed to air regularly scheduled shows featuring discussions of Pacifica have left the network's listener/sponsors in the dark about the growing Pacifica debate, even as mainstream media outlets are reporting on the story.

While instances of Pacifica stations censoring or failing to air discussions about the network have been reported over the past several years, since December's "Christmas coup"--when workers at Pacifica's New York City station, WBAI, were fired and banned from the station--incidents of Pacifica management silencing news about the network have increased considerably.

Here are some recent instances in which Pacifica stations censored, silenced or failed to air discussions about the controversy:

  • March 26: Three days after a Los Angeles forum about Pacifica attracted more than 1,200, Pacifica executive director Bessie Wash interrupted the national broadcast of the show Democracy Now! to accuse critics of Pacifica management of participating in or encouraging violence. Wash's interruption suggests that Pacifica's "dirty laundry rule"--under which several broadcasters have been fired for discussing the Pacifica crisis on-air--only applies to those with whom Wash and Pacifica management disagree.
  • March 16: Washington, D.C.'s WPFW censored an edition of Democracy Now! featuring a debate between Pacifica board member John Murdock and former Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzalez, who has called for the removal of some Pacifica National Board members and a boycott of station fundraisers.
  • Week of March 12: FAIR's radio show CounterSpin featured a discussion with three Pacifica critics. (Pacifica management did not return several phone calls asking them to participate.) Only one of Pacifica's five stations--Berkeley's KPFA--aired CounterSpin as scheduled. Los Angeles' KPFK aired a documentary about Lady Bird Johnson instead, while New York's WBAI aired an old edition of the show. Houston's KPFT did not air CounterSpin's Pacifica program until two weeks after it was scheduled. WPFW had canceled CounterSpin in 1999, following an earlier edition of the show that focused on Pacifica issues. CounterSpin has been censored or altered numerous other times by Pacifica stations when it has addressed the Pacifica crisis (FAIR.org, 12/10/99).
  • March 13: After weeks of refusing to allow Amy Goodman to assume her usual role as co-host of WBAI's Wake Up Call, interim WBAI station manager Utrice Leid officially fired Goodman from the program. Leid's action followed Goodman's written complaint that she had been harassed by Clayton Riley, whom Leid had appointed as a temporary host on Wake Up Call. Wake Up Call news anchor Robert Knight, who had also been covering Pacifica, was informed of his dismissal from the show a month before Goodman.
  • March 9: Mario Murillo, another co-host of Wake Up Call, resigned from that job after being ordered not to book Goodman as a guest on the show, which she had co-hosted for years.
  • March 5: WBAI's Leid interrupted and then canceled the labor show Building Bridges while host Ken Nash was conducting a live interview about Pacifica with Rep. Major Owens (D.-N.Y.). The show's other host, Mimi Rosenberg, had been fired and banned from WBAI studios several days before; Nash was dismissed after the cancellation. In a speech on the floor of Congress, Owens has since described himself as "gagged," noting that Leid had "proclaimed that she had to intervene because it was her job to allow only the 'truth' over the airwaves."
  • March 1: Houston station KPFT censored Democracy Now!'s announcement of an upcoming meeting of the Pacifica National Board in Houston.
  • February 28: WPFW cut away from a Democracy Now! commentary on Pacifica by Pennsylvania death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal, airing jazz music instead.
  • February 14: Three separate independent websites featuring discussion of Pacifica issues--Pacifica's lawyers at the firm Epstein, Becker & Green threatening suit if the listener groups that run the websites did not transfer the rights to the domain names to Pacifica by February 19.
  • January 31: Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzalez resigned on-air; WPFW and KPFT cut away from his statement to other programming. Gonzalez cited harassment and muzzling of free speech as key reasons for his departure.

For most of its 50-year history, Pacifica has been a vital and vibrant resource for the progressive community. Recently, however, a self-selected board majority has acted to disempower listeners and local station workers, watering down the network's tradition of critical, independent programming. Listener groups, as well as staff at some stations, have organized ongoing protests against Pacifica's management and in support of a democratic, accountable and diverse network.