Brooklyn Congressman protests WBAI censorship
lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Wed Mar 7 08:11:04 MST 2001
(from save wbai mailing list)
Credit: New York Newsday http://www.newsday.com/news/daily/wbai307.htm
WBAI Spat In Congress
Rep. upset about being cut off during interview
by Peter Goodman Staff Writer
The bitter fight over control of listener-sponsored WBAI/99.5 FM is about
to spill onto the floor of Congress.
Saying he was "outraged" over having been cut off the air during a live
broadcast, Rep. Major Owens (D-Brooklyn) described the current management
of the station as resembling "some totalitarian country where some great
minister of information was dispensing the truth."
Owens said he intends to make a statement about the situation on the House
floor as soon as today.
The congressman was angry that WBAI's general manager Utrice Leid cut him
off Monday afternoon and canceled "Building Bridges," the program on which
he had been appearing.
Owens was cut off his telephone interview when station manager Leid entered
the studio during the program, shut off host Ken Nash's microphone, went to
music and eventually declared that the show was cancelled.
"Nobody bothered to call me, to explain," Owens said yesterday. "I had to
turn on the radio to hear what was going on. Evidently Miss Leid considered
that the truth was not being told."
Owens said he planned to make a statement about WBAI and its owner the
Pacifica Foundation on the floor of the House today or tomorrow.
WBAI has been in turmoil since what station supporters call a "Christmas
Coup," in which Leid was named general manager, changed the locks on the
studio doors, fired the program director and other staffers and then banned
discussion of the matter over the air.
Since then, there have been a series of rallies and demonstrations in
support of fired staffers. Owens addressed one rally Feb. 20, and he had
been invited to discuss his position on "Building Bridges," a labor
commentary show, by co-host Nash. Co-host Mimi Rosenberg had been fired the
The struggle at WBAI is part of a larger conflict over control and
direction of the nonprofit Pacifica Foundation, which owns five stations
Longtime supporters of Pacifica, which was founded by a conscientious
objector and often broadcasts politically radical shows, fear that the
foundation board is trying to weaken its positions and sell some of the
stations, including WBAI.
Neither Leid nor Pacifica executives returned calls for comment.
"I think WBAI's fight for existence... is symbolic and very important in
the larger fight for freedom of speech over the airwaves," Owens said. "The
Pacifica board has made some moves that lead me to believe they are
abandoning the original goal of Pacifica."
Owens said the WBAI-Pacifica battle is part of "a larger fight" over
free-speech on the radio involving unlicensed Haitian "pirate" stations in
Brooklyn that are being forced to shut down by the Federal Communications
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