In a recent interview with the Washington Post, Pacifica Radio executive director Bessie Wash said that the Pacifica management’s goal “is to increase listenership.” In the name of that worthy ambition, however, Wash has continued to further alienate many longtime supporters and staff and to weaken the core programming that should be the foundation on which that listenership is built. In the latest development, Pacifica is no longer originating and distributing its most popular (and much-honored) news program, Democracy Now!, following disputes with host Amy Goodman. (The program is being produced elsewhere and aired on some stations, while Pacifica sends out reruns of earlier shows.) Meanwhile, in order to fight lawsuits brought by former employees and listeners, and the accompanying bad publicity, Pacifica is using scarce listener-donated dollars to hire a white-shoe law firm and a high-priced PR outfit. And dissidents are pushing an economic boycott that will reduce those dollars even further.
At the rate things are going, there will soon be no Pacifica worth fighting over (apart from its valuable real estate on the dial). It is time for both sides to pull back from the brink. We continue to believe that Democracy Now! and Goodman exemplify Pacifica’s fifty-year tradition of tough, radical reporting and that they represent an asset of immense worth. We also believe that the only way out of the current downward spiral at Pacifica is for dissidents as well as management to focus on positive steps to move the enterprise forward. For the dissidents, it means an end to the boycott, which is incompatible with a devotion to the spirit of community radio, and a willingness to be open to change. For the Pacifica management and board, set to hold a key meeting on September 12, it means a commitment to respecting its employees and a restructuring of the organization to grant more legal power to the staff and listeners, who have made Pacifica what it is today.
As we’ve said before, Pacifica is one of the bastions of the precept, enshrined in the Federal Communications Act, that the airwaves are a public trust. It deserves the care and concern of all who believe in that precept.