Rally To Reverse WBAI Firings
In 2007, White, who is Black, filed a complaint with the Pacifica Board about racial harassment by members of the Local Station Board, which went unanswered.
[New York News]
More than 200 WBAI radio listeners, staff, and community activists rallied over the course of three hours on June 17 in front of the station to protest a wave of recent firings, program changes, and the imposition of a “gag rule” on dissenting programmers.
The Coalition to Take Back WBAI, sponsor of the protest, charged that the changes are aimed at undermining the station’s long history of providing a channel for diverse community issues and movements, with a particular open door for communities of color.
Among the lengthy list of speakers was: New York City Councilmember and Mayoral candidate Tony Avella; prominent defense attorney Lynne Stewart: Larry Hamm of the People’s Organization for Progress: Dr. James McIntosh of Committee to Eliminate Media Offensive To African People (CEMOTAP); Suzanne Ross of the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition; Bernard White, WBAI’s fired Program Director; WBAI staff members/producers William Camacaro, Don DeBar, Bill Di Fazio, Bob Lederer, Basir Mchawi, and Mimi Rosenberg; WBAI Local Station Board members Omowale Clay, also of the December 12th Movement, Lisa Davis, and Ray Laforest; and a range of representatives of activist organizations.
Last month, Grace Aaron, the Interim Executive Director of the Pacifica Foundation, the national organization that holds the license for WBAI and four other listener-sponsored, community-based radio stations, abruptly fired the New York station’s General Manager, Anthony Riddle, after he refused her demand to fire Program Director Bernard White without due process. Pacifica then installed LaVarn Williams as WBAI's Acting General Manager. Similarly, Williams, who is a former director of the Pacifica National Board with strong ties to Aaron's supporters, was also hastily appointed to be the Interim Chief Financial Officer of Pacifica earlier in January, when Lonnie Hicks was unfairly dismissed as the CFO-- Hicks has since filed a lawsuit against Pacifica, claiming among other things racial discrimination.
Since becoming the Acting General Manager of WBAI she has fired White and barred him from the studios and airways. Additionally, she has removed two popular programmers from the morning show, News Editor Don DeBar and Wednesday host Mimi Rosenberg, and barred criminal justice programmer Ayo Harrington from the studios and airwaves without any explanation. All are critics of the new policies.
Williams has also cut an hour from what had been a three-hour (6-9 AM) morning show showcasing local issues, using the last hour to run the national “Democracy Now” news magazine, formerly run only at 9 AM.
“Democracy Now” co-hosts Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez issued a statement criticizing the time change and decrying the removal of White as Program Director. Earlier, Aaron had imposed a rule forbidding WBAI programmers from engaging in on-air discussions of station matters that she claimed would put Pacifica at “legal risk,” but that opponents say is simply a gag rule to prevent airing news and dissenting opinions about the drastic changes underway.
“Pacifica national management, with the support of many local board members, has exploited and exaggerated WBAI’s genuine financial crisis as a pretext for destroying the local autonomy that all the network’s stations have had for decades,” said Lisa Davis, a member of WBAI’s Local Station Board.
“The new management’s goal is to reshape programming to include more celebrities and appeal to a more well-heeled audience,” Davis added. She noted a wave of removals of other staffers, particularly people of color, around the network in recent months. Davis said, “A vitriolic campaign of racist stereotypes and false allegations of wrongdoing has gone on for years, seeking to eliminate particular staff and – at WBAI - claiming without basis that some programs are ‘anti-white.’”
In 2007, White, who is Black, filed a complaint with the Pacifica Board about racial harassment by members of the Local Station Board, which went unanswered. Another Black employee, former Pacifica Chief Financial Officer Lonnie Hicks, recently filed a lawsuit charging wrongful termination and racial discrimination.
All of these events have spurred the formation of the Coalition to Take Back WBAI, which represents many listeners, staff, and community leaders such as City Councilmember Charles Barron and prominent defense attorney Stewart, as well as dozens of organizations ranging from the People’s Organization for Progress, a New Jersey human rights organization, to the December 12th Movement, an organization for Black liberation, to ProLibertad, the freedom campaign for Puerto Rican political prisoners, to ACT UP/New York, an AIDS activist group.
Coalition members said the rally is just the beginning, and that they will continue activities aimed at reversing what they call the “coup.” Their goals include reinstatement of White, Riddle and all removed WBAI programmers; lifting the gag rule; and returning genuine autonomy to the station. Among the other efforts underway is a recall campaign to remove from office two of the Local Station Board members that the Coalition deems most destructive of local autonomy, board chair Mitchel Cohen and board member and multimillionaire marketing executive Steve Brown.
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