Jan 19 2000

FAIR Deplores Loss of Pacifica Radio Anchor, Seeks End to the Hemorrhaging at 50-Year-Old Network

FAIR News Advisory

FAIR joins with community radio listeners nationwide in lamenting this month’s official departure from Pacifica Radio of veteran news anchor Verna Avery-Brown.

“For more than a decade, Verna has been a voice of independent, committed journalism,” said FAIR founder Jeff Cohen. “Her consistent coverage of underreported stories and her unique style of putting a human face on the crucial issues of the day will be deeply missed.”

Avery-Brown joined Pacifica in 1988 and became known for her reporting on criminal justice, civil liberties and African-American social and political issues. Her groundbreaking “Women in Prison” series in 1997 won wide acclaim. She was the only African-American national news anchor in public broadcasting.

Verna Avery-Brown’s departure comes in the wake of on-going turmoil, dismissals and censorship at the Pacifica network, which owns five stations and distributes Pacifica Network News (PNN) and other programming to more than 60 listener-sponsored stations across the country. Senior managers, key staffers and national programmers like Polk award-winner Larry Bensky have left or been ousted under the leadership of executive director Lynn Chadwick and Pacifica Board Chair Mary Frances Berry.

On Nov. 1, Pacifica abruptly removed national news director Dan Coughlin after he aired a short piece on a boycott of national programming by Pacifica affiliates, which were protesting censorship and poor service. In the ensuing shake-up, Avery-Brown filed a series of complaints against the network. But instead of seeking reconciliation, Pacifica served up a severance package for the 11-year staffer. As for news director Coughlin, he remains on paid leave nearly 3 months later.

“The Pacifica crisis is worsening,” says FAIR’s Cohen, “as talented journalists are discounted or driven out of the network. The current Pacifica management seems unable to provide a creative, diverse and supportive work environment. Pushing out an anchor like Avery-Brown, and putting on ice a skilled senior producer like Coughlin, is journalistically and economically unwise.”

FAIR renews its call for the Pacifica board leadership to step down as the surest path toward reconciliation and renewal for this unique media institution. FAIR also urges Pacifica to promptly convene a public hearing focusing on issues of censorship, accountability and the avoidance of retaliatory personnel moves that undermine the network’s mission.