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Pacifica crisis reheats with show under siege

By Judith Scherr Daily Planet staff
Wednesday August 15, 2001

The crisis within the Pacifica family of listener-sponsored radio stations may be coming to a head, as the morning news magazine produced by popular host Amy Goodman was canceled Tuesday and replaced, in much of the country, by a rerun of an old show. 

KPFA, Berkeley’s Pacifica station, however, ran the original show, sent directly to the station through high-speed cable lines. 

Amy Goodman, host of “Democracy Now!” has reportedly been in heated battle with Utrice Leid, interim station manager at the New York Pacifica station WBAI, having been relegated to a small cramped studio from where she has been asked to produce her shows. 

Tensions within Pacifica first became evident in Berkeley in 1999, when the Pacifica Foundation Board refused to renew the contract of a popular station manager. The crisis escalated as on-air programmers discussed the manager’s removal over the air, violating the Pacifica executive director’s gag order. Firings and bannings from the air waves ensued. Pacifica closed down the station and piped shows in from Texas and hundreds of people took to the streets in Berkeley, with one demonstration topping 10,000 people. 

Programmers returned to the air and KPFA no longer faces a gag order. However, the fight between activists and the Pacifica Foundation Board, which holds the license to the five stations around the country, has escalated and spread to other listener areas: Los Angeles, Houston, Texas, Washington, D.C., and New York.  

Activists are calling for full disclosure of the board’s expenditures, calling for a board representative of the listeners that is not self-perpetuating, and opposing what they see as the push to “dumb down” Pacifica programming in order to attract a wider audience. 

Goodman’s dispute with her bosses is one part of that fight, with her signing off the air each day, saying she is speaking from “the studios of the fired and the banned,” referring to the more-than-a-dozen WBAI paid and volunteer staff that have been removed from their jobs at the listener-sponsored station. 

Goodman reportedly produced Tuesday’s broadcast from a nearby community television station and sent it by cable to be “uplinked” to the satellite for broadcast, but WBAI managers refused the program. 

This came after a night of negotiations, during which Goodman was attempting to get placed back into a main studio, rather than broadcast from the cramped room which “dissident” Pacifica Board member Tomas Moran called “substandard.” 

Goodman’s decision not to broadcast her shows, whose topics range from political events in East Timor to racial strife in New York City, in the poor conditions of the small studio, comes on the heels of allegations of physical intimidation on the part of the WBAI interim manager, Moran said. 

Moran, who has been among the board minority taking the side of the activists, said he has been trying to contact interim Board Chair Ken Ford.  

“I want him to tell us how the executive director is dealing with this,” he said. “I’ve had no response from Ken Ford.” 

He also had no response from Ford to earlier e-mails immediately following Goodman’s allegations Friday of physical intimidation by Leid. According to KPFA Public Affairs Director Philip Maldari, Goodman said she came upon Leid going through the personal effects of one of the fired staffers. She told Leid to stop and when Leid didn’t, Goodman went and got a camera to photograph Leid going through the individual’s possessions. Leid allegedly took the camera from Goodman by force and pushed Goodman as well. 

The Daily Planet was unable to reach Goodman, Leid, Executive Director Bessie Wash, Pacifica’s pubic relations spokesperson Angela Jones, or Board Chair Ken Ford. Wash, however, posted a message on the Pacifica Web site Tuesday which reads: 

“We are disappointed that Amy Goodman has chosen not to host the award-winning Democracy Now! from the studios of WBAI. This is an unfortunate situation that serves only to deprive the show’s listeners of programming important to them. 

“While we maintain a policy that prevents us from publicly discussing internal disputes and personnel matters, we will continue to try to bridge any differences and find a suitable arrangement for those involved. Whatever our differences are, we feel that the devoted listeners of the show should not be penalized. Pacifica apologizes to the listeners of Democracy Now! and is committed to returning the show to the air as soon as possible.”