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CRACKDOWN ON "DEMOCRACY NOW!"

by Amy Goodman Friday, Oct. 20, 2000 at 2:59 PM

Amy's letter Pacifica's Board of Directors provides an inside view of the pressure tactics being used to try and destroy "Democracy Now!" as we know it.

errorThe Institute for Public Accuracy received this today:

To: Pacifica Executive Director Bessie Wash and Board of Directors
From: Amy Goodman
Cc: Personnel File
Date: 10/18/00

CRACKDOWN ON DEMOCRACY NOW!

A few days ago, I was given a shocking memo from Pacifica Program Director Stephen Yasko and Pacifica attorney Larry Drapkin. In the 3-page memo, Yasko listed a series of Pacifica policies and work rules that I was ordered to immediately adhere to or face "disciplinary actions up to and including termination." Yasko handed me the memo during a meeting in the law offices of my union, AFTRA, at a gathering that my union representatives and I had been led to believe was meant to resolve a series of escalating conflicts which have erupted in recent months between Yasko, Executive Director Bessie Wash, myself and the Democracy Now! staff. In fact, union officials dissuaded me two weeks before the meeting from filing a formal grievance against Yasko and Pacifica for harassment because they had been led to believe Pacifica wanted to resolve these conflicts amicably.

Instead, we were suddenly faced with this list of "ground rules" and the threat to fire me. My union lawyer accused Yasko and the Pacifica lawyer of acting in bad faith, immediately cancelled the meeting and approved the filing of a formal grievance. I have now filed grievances against Pacifica management charging harassment, gender harassment, and censorship, among other violations of the union contract. Several of the new "rules" target me with restrictions not applied to other Pacifica employees, and are outright attempts to curtail my constitutional rights of free speech. Some rules go against the very principles of community radio on which Pacifica was founded, while still others will have the effect of hampering Democracy Now!'s ability to reach the widest possible audience. Given their timing and seen in their totality, the ground rules are a transparent attempt to retaliate against me for seeking union representation in a management-labor dispute, a right protected by the National Labor Relations Act.

But in my opinion, there is something far bigger than a mere "work rules" dispute involved here, something which should deeply concern the Pacifica Board, our listeners and the greater community radio listenership. It is the desire of management to reign in and exert political control over Democracy Now! It intensified this summer when Pacifica Executive Director Bessie Wash had our press credentials pulled after we brought Ralph Nader into the Republican Convention to be interviewed and do color commentary.

Management's action made it much more difficult to cover the Democrats in the same hardhitting, confrontational way we had reported on the Republicans, especially when it came to our focus on corporate control of the Conventions. This punishment was such an unprecedented act that it prompted my co-host and award- winning veteran journalist Juan Gonzalez to write an official protest to Steve Yasko, the new program director, the content of which Yasko never responded to.

Our election project, "Breaking With Convention: Power, Protest and the Presidency," was a milestone in Pacifica National Programming, encompassing the largest expansion of audience in Pacifica history. We engaged in an unprecedented collaboration with community public access cable tv stations as well as satellite television, beaming Democracy Now! into millions of homes across the country. Instead of building on that collaboration and continuing the televising of our radio program, and despite meeting and exceeding every stated objective for the show--i.e. audience growth, fundraising, new listeners, groundbreaking programming-- Democracy Now! is being subjected to a withering assault by Pacifica management. The motivation is blatantly political. Democracy Now! is a hardhitting grassroots program that is not afraid of tackling controversial issues day after day in the Pacifica tradition. We are not only being censored for our critical coverage of the Democrats as well as the Republicans, but for giving voice to a growing grassroots movement that fundamentally challenges the status quo--people fighting sweatshops, police brutality, prison growth, and corporate globalization.

On September 14, Steve Yasko called me to a meeting with Pacifica General Managers. KPFK Manager Mark Schubb, expressed his repeated criticism that audiences don't want to hear graphic details of police brutality before breakfast, or as he said last year "before I have my coffee." He criticized our coverage of Mumia Abu-Jamal, East Timor and questioned why I asked Spike Lee about his affiliation with Nike. Pacifica's Chief Financial Officer weighed in with her criticism of American prisoner Lori Berenson in Peru, (we had just aired an exclusive interview with her that received widespread national press.) After the meeting, Yasko took me into the hotel lobby and shouted, "I am your boss! I am your boss!"

I'm being subjected to a concerted campaign of abuse and harassment by Pacifica management. Despite repeated appeals to Executive Director Bessie Wash, there has been no redress. Yasko regularly makes new demands on me and Democracy Now! with wild outbursts of unprofessional yelling and screaming.

This has happened during a period when Democracy Now! has been unique in radio by reporting extensively on the refusal of the Commission on Presidential Debates or many in the corporate media to provide fair coverage and inclusion of third parties. It has also happened during a time when Democracy Now! is growing in audience, in media coverage, and in fundraising from both listeners and foundations. That is, we are growing in all the areas the Pacifica board says it is concerned with.

Just as the presidential campaign reaches its climax, we are confronted with new restrictions and threats. Among those new work rules are a requirement to provide Yasko each Friday "a list of possible shows the following week and a short status report on each," adding we must "determine the topics of at least three shows the preceding week." Yasko notes that "the Administrative Council (of Pacifica) stated that the show does not sound like breaking news either to the station staffs or the listeners." Are we living in the same world? Our show breaks more national news, as measured by actual press coverage in the mainstream media, than perhaps any show in Pacifica history, e.g., Chevron in Nigeria, the Lori Berenson interview, Seattle WTO coverage, Nader at the Republican convention, Tulia, Texas, East Timor, etc. etc.

But instead of congratulations and kudos for our many accomplishments, Pacifica has clamped down and threatens me at every turn with dismissal!

As I write this, Yasko is forging ahead with imposing two new producers on Democracy Now! with or without the consent of co- host Juan Gonzalez and me.

The two producers--our only producers-- are the heart of this show. It is clear from all of management's actions, they are using this opportunity to change the political direction of the program. This is the first time that we have been clearly told that our consent is not necessary.

In his memo, Yasko goes on to demand, "All use of volunteers on Democracy Now! must cease immediately." Why?! Volunteers have always played a pivotal role in Democracy Now! and are the lifeblood of Pacifica. For violation of this ban or any of the other dictates management has laid down, I am threatened with dismissal!

Take this section from the Yasko memo:

"To establish an appropriate balance between your programming obligations and any speaking engagements and related travel, you are not to accept anyspeaking engagements without first informing the Foundation and obtaining approval. It is also important to know whom you are speaking to."

This is an outrageous intrusion into my personal life and an illegal attempt to control my right of free speech. Given the many large and enthusiastic audiences I am often invited to address, I would think Pacifica would be glad for the positive publicity. Instead, Yasko demands veto power over when I speak and whom I speak to, and he tries to camouflage the crackdown with concern for my welfare or statements such as "you are, of course, a valued voice in spreading the word of our mission, programs and goals." I am so valued that he is ready to fire me if I don't follow unethical and illegal orders. Yasko should be worried less about where I am speaking and more about why our Ku satellite system suffers avoidable catastrophic foul-ups, an area he oversees.

I thought the Pacifica board had learned from the bitter battle in Berkeley last year that attempts to silence free speech are the last things this network wants to revisit. But apparently not. Maybe the stakes are too high in this presidential election year to permit too free a press -- even at Pacifica. I truly hope that is not the case.

I plead with those of you on the board who still remain dedicated to the grand mission of Lew Hill to reject this poorly disguised attempt at censorship of Democracy Now! and of me personally. Please direct Steve Yasko to cease his harassment and retaliation agaJinst me immediately, and Pacifica's attempts to exert political control and undermine the editorial independence of this hardhitting grassroots program.

We are not NPR. We are not US government media. We are not the corporate media.

We are Democracy Now!: The Exception to the Rulers.

Sincerely,

Amy Goodman
Host, Democracy Now!
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