It’s been a tough two weeks for Amy Goodman, the host of the most popular nationwide progressive news program, Pacifica’s Democracy Now!.
The program has been in re-runs since Tuesday, Aug. 13 when Goodman and her staff attempted to originate the program from a studio outside of Pacifica station WBAI, where the program is normally produced. The Democracy Now! staff took this action after being moved from their usual location in WBAI’s main broadcast studio to a smaller auxiliary production studio, and after an incident between Goodman and WBAI station manager Utrice Leid, in which eyewitnesses say that Leid physically pushed Goodman. Since this incident, Goodman and her staff have said that they fear for their safety at WBAI and cannot return to the station without strong assurances that they will be protected.
Since Aug. 13, Goodman and her staff have been producing Democracy Now! from their outside studio, attempting to have it uplinked by Pacifica for national satellite distribution, which Pacifica management has refused to do. The show, however, has been distributed over the Internet by “WBAI in Exile“, which has made it possible for some affiliate stations to air fresh editions of Democracy Now! rather than the archive re-runs aired by Pacifica.
At local community radio station WEFT, the volunteer Programming Committee has been trying hard to download these daily editions of Democracy Now! in time to air them at the program’s normal airtime of 4:00 PM weekdays. The Committee has also been airing short announcements before and during the program to inform listeners about the situation that is making it difficult to air new editions of Democracy Now! each day.
On Aug. 21, Goodman and the Democracy Now! staff learned from the morning New York papers that they had been suspended without pay by Pacifica management because of their refusal to produce the program at WBAI.
As of Aug. 24, Democracy Now! was still in re-runs on the Pacifica network. That same day, Pacifica and WBAI’s union, AFTRA, released a joint statement saying that they had reached an agreement on the safety of working conditions at WBAI, and that Goodman and her staff had been ordered to return to work. Supporters of Goodman have been openly critical of AFTRA, believing that the union shares too close a relationship with Pacifica and therefore does not adequately represent the interests of its members and Amy Goodman.
This struggle over Democracy Now! is the latest chapter in a more than five-year-old dispute between the Pacifica Foundation and a diverse, organized group of listeners, former employees, and volunteers. The latter group believes that the 50-year-old radio network has lost sight of its mission by forcibly instituting a rigid top-down management style, firing volunteer programmers and dissenting staff, and shifting programming to the political center. The dispute reached a new climax two years ago when the entire staff of Berkeley, CA, station KPFA was locked out of the station for almost a month. This situation was echoed last December at WBAI when long-term staff were suddenly fired over the Christmas holidays in what has come to be called the “Christmas Coup.”