Published on Wednesday, October 25, 2000 in the Los Angeles Times
Protests Planned Against Pacifica Network Radio
The award-winning host of 'Democracy Now!' accuses her bosses of censorship
by Steve Carney
Two media watchdog groups have called for protests today at 9 a.m.
at North Hollywood's KPFK-FM (90.7), as well as four other Pacifica
Foundation-owned, listener-supported radio stations nationwide, in
response to what they're calling censorship and intimidation of the
network's highest-profile journalist.
Amy Goodman, award-winning host of "Democracy Now!," said her bosses are trying to "rein in and exert political control over" her show as part of the Pacifica board's attempt to steer the network from its progressive political origins toward the mainstream.
Goodman said last week that management gave her a set of "ground rules" that she must immediately follow or face "disciplinary actions up to and including termination," according to a memo released by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, one of the groups organizing today's protests. Goodman filed a grievance with her union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, citing gender harassment and censorship. For now, her hourlong show remains on the air, playing weekdays at 6 a.m. and repeating at 9 a.m. Co-host Juan Gonzalez, a New York Daily News columnist, is not involved in the current conflict.
Reacting to Goodman's charges, Stephen Yasko, Pacifica's national program director, stated, " 'Democracy Now!' is a show we fully support, and there's certainly no censorship. If people really sat down and listened to it, there's nothing missing that was there before."
Pacifica officials said that by requiring the high-profile host to get their approval before speaking to outside groups, and informing them of show topics a week ahead of time, they're merely trying improve operations and protect the network's interests.
"For a lot of people, Amy is Pacifica," Yasko said. "Amy is an ambassador. There is a responsibility to let us know who you're speaking with, to let us know what's going on. We certainly want to support Amy and 'Democracy Now!' in every way possible."
Goodman, however, said the "ground rules" are a continuation of management harassment, which included punishment for having Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader give commentary and analysis from the floor of the Republican National Convention. Afterward, Pacifica denied "Democracy Now!" press credentials for the Democratic Convention.
Yasko called Goodman's move "a stunt" and said Pacifica officials were dismayed that she gave a valuable press credential to Nader, an opposition candidate who was there to advance his own campaign. However according to one person associated with the show, Nader was never given a press credential. And the network still makes "Ralph Nader Crashes the Party" available on its Web site at http://www.pacifica.org. In fact, some suggest that this latest conflict puts the future of "Democracy Now!" in question.
Billing itself as "the exception to the rulers," the show first aired
in February 1996. Two years ago Goodman and correspondent Jeremy Scahill
won the George Polk Award for their piece, "Drilling and Killing: Chevron
and Nigeria's Military Dictatorship"--one of several awards given the
program for reports such as "Massacre: The Story of East Timor" and
coverage of other topics, including the cases of imprisoned journalist
and convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal and Lori Berenson, an American
imprisoned in Peru.
The conflict at "Democracy Now!" is the latest in the dispute involving Pacifica's listeners, staffers and managers. Last year, Pacifica centralized control of the network with its national board, which critics said robbed the local stations of their input and violated the spirit of community-sponsored radio. Hundreds protested Pacifica's flagship, KPFA-FM (94.1) in Berkeley. Dozens were arrested, and the foundation posted security guards outside the studio. Popular commentators were fired for discussing the conflict on their shows, and one was even detained while on the air.
After a 17-day lockout last summer, during which Pacifica aired archived shows, the foundation reopened KPFA and allowed staffers to return. Those who have followed the station's long history of airing controversial points of view contend the network is shifting from a more leftist base to make itself more palatable to corporate sponsors. And some maintain the foundation is even considering selling its valuable frequencies in New York and Berkeley.
Pacifica officials have denied the charges.
"Pacifica has been a treasure for the progressive community," said Rachel Coen, communications coordinator at FAIR, which, along with the nonprofit Media Alliance of San Francisco, is sponsoring protests at KPFK, KPFA, WBAI and the network's stations in Houston and Washington, D.C. "It's been very, very painful to see the management of Pacifica stray from the original vision. I think 'Democracy Now!' really crystallizes the conflict for a lot of people.
"We wouldn't have taken action in this public and dramatic way if we
didn't think Amy was in danger of losing her job and the public wasn't in
danger of losing 'Democracy Now!' " she added. "This is part of a
last-ditch effort to save Pacifica."
Goodman said that she was ordered to give Yasko a rundown of the following week's shows every Friday and that she had to get approval before speaking to outside groups, which she called "an outrageous intrusion into my personal life and an illegal attempt to control my right of free speech."
"I never asked to approve her topics, goodness no," Yasko said of the first requirement. "We trust Amy and the 'Democracy Now!' staff with the editorial guidance of the program."
He said the advance notice regarding program topics is for logistical reasons, such as booking time for a guest at a sister station with a high audio-quality phone line, rather than having the guest talk from a static-filled home phone at the last minute. He added that Goodman would be free to change topics to accommodate breaking news.
"There's no attempt to make Pacifica more mainstream," Yasko said. "There's an attempt to make Pacifica sound better to the listener. That's what we're working on."
While some listeners fear the current wrangling imperils Pacifica's
alternative voice, turmoil has long been part of the network's history.
Journalist and World War II conscientious objector Lewis Hill founded
Pacifica and KPFA in 1949 as the country's first community-supported
radio. Four years later, the foundation board and Hill tried to fire each
Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times