Dec
26
2000

Lockout at WBAI

The national management of Pacifica Radio has fired several long-time staffers at WBAI, the New York City community radio station that is home to the award-winning show "Democracy Now!": program director Bernard White, producer Sharan Harper, and station manager Valerie Van Isler (see "Pacifica Management Move to Undermine WBAI's Independence," http://www.fair.org/press-releases/van-isler.html).

Accompanied by security guards, Pacifica executive director Bessie Wash arrived at WBAI late at night on Friday, December 23, and changed the locks both to the station and to individual offices. WBAI staff-- including "Democracy Now!"'s Amy Goodman-- are now being admitted to the building only on a "controlled entry" basis until further notice. White and Harper have been threatened with arrest should they attempt to enter the building.

Pacifica has appointed WBAI afternoon talk show host Utrice Leid as acting station manager. Last week, WBAI news director Jose Santiago turned down the job, saying he had been falsely assured by management that Van Isler was resigning voluntarily. Since the lockout, Leid has asserted on air that the crisis is simply an internal personnel dispute. Given Pacifica management's recent embrace of arbitrary firings and other autocratic management techniques, this is at best hard to believe.

The current crisis is reminiscent of last year's lockout at KPFA in Berkeley, which also came on the heels of a number of politically motivated firings. That lockout brought thousands of Berkeley listeners out into the streets to protest Pacifica management's actions and demand greater accountability to the community, in keeping with the progressive core values laid out by Pacifica founder Lew Hill.

Over the last year and a half, Pacifica's management has increasingly orchestrated censorship-- including of FAIR's own radio show, CounterSpin-- retaliatory personnel moves and the disenfranchisement of listeners and local advisory boards in order to impose its often regressive decisions on the network. FAIR had feared that Pacifica's recent moves against "Democracy Now!" (see http://www.fair.org/activism/democracy-now.html ) were an indication that the network was preparing an attempt to break the independence of WBAI, one of the cornerstones of the progressive community. The holiday firings and lockout have more than confirmed those fears.

When FAIR asked for help in supporting "Democracy Now!" against harassment from Pacifica management this October, members of our email list responded passionately and swiftly, writing over 1,300 letters to Pacifica in just over four days, and organizing demonstrations across the country.

Since then, listener meetings and demonstrations have been ongoing, and early signs are that listeners are responding to this latest crisis with just as much energy. Despite the organizing difficulties presented by the holiday season and below-freezing temperatures, listeners have already begun to take action in New York City. Several dozen people held a vigil outside WBAI's Manhattan studios on the night of the lockout, and hundreds attended a demonstration outside the building on Saturday the 23rd. Daily protests are planned outside the station from four to six pm, beginning Tuesday, December 26.

As a media watch group dedicated to strengthening democracy by defending a free press, FAIR decries the lockout and recent firings at WBAI. We urge Pacifica to immediately reinstate Van Isler, White and Harper, and to cease restricting employee access to the station. We stand in solidarity with the staff and listeners of WBAI who are fighting to win back democratic, community control of their station.

For more information about the ongoing crisis at Pacifica, see:http://www.fair.org/activism/pacifica-history.html

ACTION:1. The group Concerned Friends of WBAI is urging New York City listeners to attend a community planning meeting this Wednesday, December 27, 6:30 pm at SEIU Local 32 B-J, 101 Sixth Avenue. For more information, see: http://www.wbai.net.

Concerned listeners in other cities should check the Save Pacifica website for updates and for links to local listener groups that may be organizing in their area: http://www.savepacifica.net.

2. Please call or write to Pacifica and let them know that you support the locked out WBAI staffers. Urge the network to reinstate Valerie Van Isler, Bernard White and Sharan Harper, and to cease harassment of WBAI employees.

CONTACT:Bessie Wash, Pacifica executive director, bmwpacifica@aol.comPhone: 888-770-4944 x348 (toll free)Post: The Pacifica Foundation 2390 Champlain St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009