Al-Jazeera on Pacifica Radio Network!?

Discussion in 'The Powder Keg' started by Cyrano, Sep 8, 2010.

  1. Cyrano

    Cyrano Resident Curmudgeon Forum Contributor

    New York
    My wife's politics tend to be to the left of my own. Until there was a power struggle that left a bunch of black racist lunatics in control of WBAI-FM in New York City that alienated a substantial percentage of the station's listeners and contributors, she was a dues-paying member of the listenership. (You've encountered the PBS Fund Raising weeks on PBS? Pacifica does the same thing.) The black racists ran off programs they did not approve of, from Gary Null's heath programs to the late Al "Grandpa Munster" Lewis's prisoner advocacy show. It took about six years for sane people to regain control of the station and oust (and have arrested) the black racists who had fouled up the station's finances and trashed its reputation as being the one radio station in New York City that was run by the people and for the people, without depending on advertisers. The station still hasn't recovered its listenership and probably never will.

    Stephen Brown was one of the members of the opposition who finally got the looney-tunes out of power at WBAI-FM. He's been a thorn in the side of Pacifica Radio for a long time now - somewhere between a member of the Loyal Opposition and a revolutionary when it comes to Pacifica's policies. After reading his open letter to Pacifica's National Board, I think you'll see why - and why he thinks Pacifica's bright idea of signing a deal to take feeds from Al Jazeera Radio is an extraordinarily bad idea.

    To the members of The Pacifica National Board:

    It is no secret that Pacifica has been negotiating in secret with Al Jazeera, and may be close to signing a contract to accept its news feed as a regularly scheduled program.

    I do not object in principle to such a broadcast – it could be a great coup for Pacifica. But I do object to the secrecy and lack of member input on an issue that could have dire consequences for the foundation. Do Pacifica’s negotiators – whoever they are – have the knowledge, skill, and experience to negotiate such a contract? Who are they? What are their credentials?

    I fear that, without wider input, the proposed contract might become another fiasco such as the 2001 Democracy Now contract, whose crippling effects still hobble us. I have not seen a draft of the Al Jazeera contract, but know that any such contract will invariably include very specific (and very binding) language on what rights and privileges Al Jazeera will have vis-à-vis Pacifica.

    Which brings up this important question: Under whose rules and laws will Al Jazeera operate? Pacifica’s or Al Jazeera’s? America’s or Qatar’s? Constitutional Law or Sharia Law?

    Al Jazeera is a totally government owned and funded broadcast entity, and the government that owns and funds it is among the most repressive on earth. It claims to be independent and unbiased, but what broadcast entity can afford to bite the hand that feeds it (especially when that hand can also, literally as well as metaphorically, cut out its tongue)?

    Will disputes between Pacifica and Al Jazeera (and there will be many) be resolved in court or by binding arbitration? And if the latter, in which courts – U.S. courts or those in Qatar?

    I know that Al Jazeera can afford to pay some of the best and most highly skilled legal and PR talent in the world to sit on its side of the negotiating table. Can Pacifica say the same? Or will we be overmatched, and wake up in the morning with giant hangover and no Worcestershire sauce in sight?

    The specific rules, regulations, rights, and laws that will be embodied in this contract cannot be passed over without careful thought. At the very least they will have significant public relations consequences for Pacifica – not to mention the probability of severe negative “blowback” from the Pacifica membership.

    Not just blowback about freedom of speech, but about the restrictions on freedom of speech that are endemic in Qatar, as well as the many human rights violations that are also endemic in Qatar, and actually embodied in its legal statutes. These are not just restrictions on the media, but also restrictions that suppress the rights of women and make them chattel, as well as such mediaeval punishments as lopping off hands for minor thefts. There is also the government sponsored torture of dissidents (though considering the existence of Guantanamo, Abu Grahib, and our many off-shore “Black Sites,” we cannot, as U.S. citizens, claim the moral high ground here).

    I believe that any contract with Al Jazeera is one that must be opened up to public scrutiny before it is signed, and that a non-binding poll of the entire Pacifica membership should be taken on how it feels about such a (regularly scheduled) program – not because such a public airing is legally required (since this contract might fall into the category of proprietary information, and thus be protected) – but for our own good.

    Another question is: Will Pacifica have the right to follow any Al Jazeera newscast with commentary, rebuttal, or elaboration of its own choosing? Will other Pacifica broadcasters be allowed to comment negatively on whatever Al Jazeera says, since there is a ban on bad-mouthing other Pacifica programs on the air. This in itself is not a minor consideration.

    Most critical of all, however, is the 700-lb gorilla in the corner of the room, which no one seems to want to discuss in depth. – a.k.a. “The Jewish Question.”

    It is not even surmise, but an absolute certainty, that if we broadcast Al Jazeera – without appropriate official comment and disclaimers – or even with appropriate official comment and disclaimers -- support from many and perhaps most of our Jewish listeners could vanish overnight. Even though the decision to broadcast Al Jazeera is (arguably) legally and morally correct.

    Let us be realistic. Jewish listeners comprise many of our major donors, and even among “ordinary” donors they contribute far more than their numerical representation. So we could be looking at another “Skokie incident.” (For PNB members too young to remember, this was a 1977 lawsuit in which the ACLU defended the right of a neo-Nazi group to hold a march through the Jewish residential village of Skokie, Illinois.)

    The action of the ACLU was legally and morally correct (and in fact the ACLU prevailed in court). But as a result, the ACLU lost 25% of its membership and nearly one-third of its budget, with 30,000 Jewish ACLU members immediately resigning in protest. I would suggest that the ACLU’s membership profile closely maps that of Pacifica, and that our members might well tend to react in a similar manner.

    What might that mean for Pacifica’s finances? Pacifica (in these sad days) has only about 75,000 members nationwide. Although there is no real way of knowing, it could be that as many as 20% may be Jewish. Moreover, it is also possible that this 20% may be responsible for up to 60% of Pacifica’s income. So if Pacifica’s income is $14 million, this group might generate as much as $8.2 million. Therefore, if even only 10% of those Jewish members walked away in a huff (instead of the 25% who deserted the ACLU), Pacifica might lose nearly $1 million a year. And what if as many as 25% or even 30% do walk away? Could we survive without having to sell off a station?

    To repeat, this is not a legal issue, nor is it a moral issue (for in an ideal world, we should be able to broadcast whatever we feel is valuable, and **** the consequences). But this is not an ideal world. I predict that, unless we protect ourselves by intelligent and knowledgeable advance notification and pre-emptive publicity, and also by a very visible counter-balance in programming, there will be not just a vocal firestorm from many of our Jewish supporters -- but also a financial firestorm that will cost Pacifica millions of dollars in support

    The Al Jazeera issue could generate a lot of good publicity for Pacifica, if handled correctly. But who at Pacifica understands publicity – either its positive benefits or its potential for lasting harm? Do we again want to see our pathetically publicity-clueless foundation, for the umpteenth time, shoot itself in the foot on an important issue? Actually, shooting itself in the foot would be a best-case scenario, since given Pacifica’s long record of poor marksmanship, the bullet might well hit its brain instead (if one still exists).

    The last point I will make is also critical. Al Jazeera may be on the Homeland Security’s terrorist list (or “almost terrorist” list). Broadcasting Al Jazeera’s programs, handing it Pacifica’s airwaves and facilities, helping to make it “acceptable” in American eyes -- these may well be viewed as “supporting a terrorist organization.” I do not know if you or the PNB have been looking at the slew of recent court decisions to see how far the government has stretched this provision of the Patriot Act. Broadcasting Al Jazeera in the face of Government displeasure or legal opposition might be a case well worth taking to the Supreme Court – as was the George Carlin case. But I hope you remember that the Carlin case made bad law, which now governs – and haunts – all broadcast outlets. It also exacted a terrible financial toll in legal costs on Pacifica, one which it barely weathered at the time, and which, if a similar legal battle took place today, might be a virtual death sentence.

    Although Pacifica management may have the legal right, I do not I do not think it has the moral right to sign a potential bombshell -- such as this contract is likely to be -- without passing it by the membership, or at least the 5 LSBs in executive session. For once we sign, we are bound – for better or for worse.

    As another member has said:

    “It it is a sad day when a station with a once-great independent news department (which now doesn't even get enough funds to subscribe to Agents-France or Reuters) intends to farm out its news feed to a non-independent and government funded news organization that is owned and bankrolled by one of the most repressive governments on earth. I find it more than bizarre that this is the sort of thing the PNB thinks will help build our organization”

    To sum up: This is a swampy area, in which no one really can predict the outcome. But since the downside could be so much greater than the upside, more caution, precaution -- and pre-emptive education and publicity -- should have already been put in place, but which I see no evidence of even having been thought about, much less implemented.

    I hope that in its hubris the foundation may not again, as so often in the past, be marching into battle with a cardboard sword and papier-mâché buckler.

    Steve Brown

    Stephen M Brown
    [email protected]
  2. Pacifica is the home of Democracy Now and that horrible woman Amy Goodman, who is a manipulative liar of the worst sort.

    I hope your wife isn't a fan.

  3. Cyrano

    Cyrano Resident Curmudgeon Forum Contributor

    New York
    She listens to the station that picked up Gary Null's program these days. That was her main reason for listening to WBAI-FM -- that, and the fact she's an old time radio recreation fan, and there's a program on WBAI-FM which recreates old time radio shows. She's appeared in a number of them, notably as Effie Perrine on The Adventures of Sam Spade. The director she works with recreates only radio shows for which scripts exist but no transcriptions do.