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2002-01-07

Democracy Now! Returns to Pacifica’s Airwaves After Five Months in Exile: A Roundtablediscussion with Filmmaker Michael Moore, Pacifica Board Chair Leslie Cagan, Board Member Dick Gregory, Former Demo

Guests

William Orme, is the United Nations correspondent for the LA Times.

John Peck, is a member of the Association of Concerned Africa Scholars. He has spent years researchingland-reform issues in Zimbabwe.

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Today is the first day that Democracy Now! returns to the Pacifica airwaves after five months in exile.

At its first meeting just over one week ago, Pacifica’s new interim national board voted by a 2/3 majority to bringback Democracy Now! immediately. But some individual station managers have not made it clear whether they intend tofollow the board’s directive ­ we’ll find out as today’s show proceeds.

Pacifica Radio has been in turmoil for the last few years. Starting in 1999, the old Pacifica board majority votedto change its bylaws, so that board members would no longer be chosen by the five local advisory boards, but wouldrather be chosen by the national board itself ­ in other words, the national board became self-selecting.

One of the most vocal opponents of this move was the station manager at Pacifica station KPFA in Berkeley, NicoleSawaya. She was promptly removed. Massive protests erupted there, and Pacifica management chained KPFA shut forthree weeks in July 1999, provoking the largest protests that city had seen since the Vietnam War. 15,000 peoplemarched in the streets, and the station re-opened. Pacifica management moved their headquarters to Washington, D.C.

A year later, Pacifica management moved in on New York station WBAI. In the middle of the night during Christmasweekend, 2000, producer Utrice Leid entered the station, announced on-air that she was the new station manager, firedand banned three long-time employees including the old station manager and the Program Director Bernard White, whojoins us here today. Leid enforced the move with lock changes and security guards. We were met with police andthreatened with arrest if we entered.

Since then, dozens of long-time producers have been fired and banned.

Within months, Democracy Now! was verbally and physically harassed out of the station. Since then, we have beenbroadcasting from Downtown Community Television in lower Manhattan. Every day, KPFA in Berkeley aired Democracy Now!in Exile and put it on the satellite, making it available to all of our affiliates. While in our new studio, we alsobegan broadcasting on cable access and satellite television, short-wave radio, and the internet, becoming the largestpublic media collaboration in the country. After September 11, we expanded to a two-hour 'War and Peace Report.'

Last month, an historic settlement was reached between Pacifica and the listeners, dissident board members and localadvisory board members who were suing the foundation. In exchange for dropping the lawsuits, Pacifica agreed toreconstitute the national board. Five people from the former board majority, five dissident board members, and fivepeople from the local advisory boards (one from each station area), became the new interim board.

The board held its first meeting last week by telephone, and elected former dissident member Leslie Cagan to boardchair. The board also voted to return Democracy Now! to the Pacifica airwaves immediately.

But the conflict is far from over. Dozens of producers and hosts remained banned from their stations, and more arebanned every week. More than 150 freelance journalists from five continents are still striking against Pacifica’snational news for censoring its broadcasts. The striking journalists have formed a remarkably successfulalternative, Free Speech Radio News, which airs on fifty stations nationwide. Meanwhile, many affiliate stationshave dropped their contract with Pacifica, and Pacifica Foundation is between $3-4 million in debt.

Guests:

  • Juan Gonzalez, former co-host of Democracy Now!
  • Leslie Cagan, chair, Pacifica interim national board.
  • Michael Moore, filmmaker and author. His movies include "Roger and Me" and "The Big One."
  • Bernard White, fired WBAI Program Director.
  • Dick Gregory, new member, Pacifica interim national board

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