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Pacifica Exec Bars WTC Disaster Talk

September 27, 2001

Producers at National Radio Network Banned from Discussing the World Trade Center Tragedy over New York Airwaves

New National Program Director Utrice Leid Issues Edict

Two-hour Daily Specials Broadcast from Ground Zero Blocked

NEW YORK (Sept. 27) -- The new Director of National Programming at the Pacifica Radio Network banned discussion of the attack on the World Trade Center and its aftermath from the airwaves of New York station WBAI.

National Program Director Utrice Leid, on the eve of her departure as interim station manager at Pacifica station WBAI (99.5 FM) in New York City, instructed local public affairs producers this past weekend that they were to refrain from broadcasting the programs they had prepared and instead play music and poetry.

"Beyond the Pale," a one hour progressive Jewish radio show which had prepared a special report on the September 11 attacks, and on the one-year anniversary of the new Palestinian Intifidah, was canceled as a result of the edict. "Radio Free Eireann," a 90-minute program that covers Irish and Irish-American issues, refused to abide by the order and took phone calls on the World Trade Center tragedy instead.

"It's an astounding irony that Bessie Wash, the Executive Director of Pacifica, would promote to Director of National Programming someone who would prohibit discussion of the biggest news story of the decade," said Bernard White, the former program director of WBAI and now a staffer with the Pacifica Campaign. "How can Pacifica make any pretense of being a legitimate news organization when they are likely the only news outlet to forbid discussion of a story of such national and global magnitude?"

Leid further instructed the Arts Director at WBAI to inform Aniruddha Das, the South Asian host of the weekly radio show "Asia Pacific Forum," that his voice was no longer to appear on the air. Aniruddha Das's program has been canceled three times since September 11. The latest edition of "Asia Pacifica Forum" was to focus on the spate of racial attacks and discrimination faced by Muslims and people of Arabic and Asian descent.

"This is outright censorship," said Das. "It is an absolute outrage that as South Asians around the country face harassment and threats following the World Trade Center attacks that our voices would be taken off the air."

Leid's promotion to National Program Director comes less than a month after an August 10 incident in which she physically accosted Amy Goodman, the host of Pacifica's popular daily public affairs program "Democracy Now!". The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), which represents Goodman and other "Democracy Now!" staff, has filed a workplace safety grievance against Ms. Leid on their behalf.

Goodman and the staff of "Democracy Now!" left the studios of WBAI following the incident and have continued to broadcast from an offsite location within the evacuation zone near where the World Trade Centers once stood, pending a resolution of their grievance. Leid, in her new position, will now supervise Goodman and oversee all national news programming.

Pacifica Foundation Executive Director Bessie Wash has blocked the broadcast of "Democracy Now!" and suspended Goodman and her staff without pay, although many stations -- including Pacifica station KPFA in Berkeley, CA -- continue to air the program. Since September 11, "Democracy Now!" has broadcast a daily two hour "War and Peace Report," which now airs on public access and cable television stations around the country.

During her controversial nine-month tenure at WBAI, Leid has fired or banned nearly two dozen producers and staff from the station, including award-winning African American journalist Robert Knight, and canceled programs dealing with labor issues, housing and the environment. WBAI's fundraising and audience has since declined sharply.

The Pacifica Campaign is a eight-month old organization of staff and listeners alike fighting to preserve Pacifica's 50-year tradition of community-based, listener-sponsored radio.