ACTION ALERT – “DEMOCRACY NOW!” IN DANGER: Pacifica management turns against free speech

According to a leaked October 18 memo from “Democracy Now!” host Amy Goodman to the Pacifica Radio network’s Board of Directors, Pacifica presented Goodman with a new set of “rules” on October 16 which drastically curtail her freedom to decide what stories to cover and how, and even attempt to restrict her free speech rights. (The memo was not given to FAIR by Goodman or any other member of the “Democracy Now!” staff.)

According to a leaked October 18 memo from “Democracy Now!” host Amy Goodman to the Pacifica Radio network’s Board of Directors, Pacifica presented Goodman with a new set of “rules” on October 16 which drastically curtail her freedom to decide what stories to cover and how, and even attempt to restrict her free speech rights. (The memo was not given to FAIR by Goodman or any other member of the “Democracy Now!” staff.)

“Democracy Now!,” produced at New York City Pacifica station WBAI, is Pacifica’s most popular and influential show. Hosted by award-winning journalists Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, the daily newsmagazine is on the cutting edge of American journalism, bringing the public stories and voices too often shut out of mainstream media and standing out, as the show’s motto declares, as “the exception to the rulers.”

Over the last year, the national management of Pacifica has become increasingly hostile to the crew of the show “Democracy Now!”, and in particular to Goodman. Goodman’s leaked memo reveals that after fruitless attempts at good-faith negotiations, Goodman has been forced to file formal grievances against Pacifica’s management charging “harassment, gender harassment and censorship,” along with other violations of her union contract.

In a violation of Goodman’s freedom of speech, Pacifica’s new “rules” threaten to fire her if she does not clear any and all speaking engagements with Pacifica management. In addition, the network threatens to fire Goodman if she does not provide Pacifica Program Director Steve Yasko each Friday with “a list of possible shows the following week” and “determine the topics of at least three shows the preceding week.”

“Essentially, these rules make it impossible for Goodman to continue to produce the hard-hitting, breaking news stories ‘Democracy Now!’ is famous for,” says FAIR senior analyst Steve Rendall. “It seems clear that Pacifica is trying to force Amy out of her job.”

Background: The Crisis at Pacifica

Most Pacifica listeners first became aware of the growing conflict within the network when in March 1999, Pacifica fired Nicole Sawaya, station manager of Berkeley station KPFA; a few days later, veteran reporter Larry Bensky was also fired from KPFA for discussing on-air his concerns about the network’s autocratic management. In the wake of the firings, as many as 2,000 listeners took to the streets of Berkeley to protest the actions of Pacifica’s management and demand greater accountability to the community.

As a media watch group dedicated to promoting greater diversity in the press, FAIR has followed with distress the deepening crisis at the country’s first listener-supported community radio network. 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.

The latest moves against “Democracy Now!” are a sad indication that Pacifica’s management is making a final break with the progressive core values laid out by Pacifica founder Lew Hill.

Save “Democracy Now!”

“‘Democracy Now!’ is quite simply one of the most important shows on the radio today,” says FAIR’s Rendall. “Goodman’s journalism is exemplary. Pacifica has rewarded her for years of dedicated work with threats, daily harassment and intimidation.”

Goodman is a 1998 recipient (with “Democracy Now!” correspondent Jeremy Scahill) of the George Polk Award for the radio documentary “Drilling and Killing: Chevron and Nigeria’s Military Dictatorship.” She has also won numerous awards for the radio documentary “Massacre: The Story of East Timor” (co-produced with journalist Allan Nairn), including the Robert F. Kennedy Prize for International Reporting, the Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia Silver Baton, the Armstrong Award and the Radio/Television News Directors Award.

Pacifica’s actions against “Democracy Now!” come at a time when the show has been doing a remarkable amount of groundbreaking work. During the protests at the Democratic and Republican national conventions, the show’s 2000 election project, “Breaking With Convention: Power Protest and the Presidency,” was simulcast live via satellite on community radio and public access TV stations across the country. This unprecedented collaboration generated the largest expansion of audience in Pacifica’s history.

In addition, “Democracy Now!” has recently broken major stories on a host of issues, including Chevron’s role in Nigeria, the Lori Berenson case and East Timor, to name a few. Pacifica’s response? According to Goodman’s memo, in a September 14 meeting with Pacifica’s General Managers, KPFK’s Mark Schubb explained to Goodman that her style of reporting was inappropriate because listeners “don’t want to hear graphic details of police brutality before breakfast.”

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ACTION: Please contact Pacifica’s National Board and demand that it withdraw its new “rules” for “Democracy Now!”, cease harassing Goodman and give her their full support in continuing her ground-breaking journalism.

Please remember that some individuals on the Board support Goodman’s work; your letters will be most effective if they encourage undecided Board members to take a strong stand in support of the show.

In addition, FAIR and the San Francisco-based Media Alliance are urging Pacifica listeners across the country to attend protests outside their local Pacifica stations in support of “Democracy Now!” Details will be forthcoming at: http://www.mediademocracynow.org .

Author: fair.org

News Service: fair.org

URL: http://www.fair.org/activism/democracy-now.html