BY PAUL DeRIENZO | A lawsuit filed in New York City federal court alleges that WBAI radio and its parent, the Pacifica Foundation, have “engaged in acts evidencing callous disregard for the intellectual property and contractual rights of others.”
The suit, filed by longtime WBAI programmer Gary Null, also charges the foundation and a bevy of managers at WBAI and the Pacifica national office in Berkeley, California, with “the loss of a sense of mission” and a “betrayal of trust” of its listeners.
At the heart of the suit, which was filed in mid-January, are allegations by Null concerning DVD’s and other materials he provides to WBAI. These “premiums” are sent to contributors who have made pledges to support the station. Allegedly, DVD’s were pirated by WBAI managers and sent to contributors without Null’s permission. Null is a well-known health programmer whose work includes titles such as “7 Steps to Perfect Health” and “Kiss Your Fat Goodbye.”
There have been continuous reports that WBAI is unable to deliver premiums to customers in the minimum time required by law and that the station, which laid off most of its staff in a cost-cutting move two years ago, is near bankruptcy.
A former Pacifica attorney based in California has reportedly threatened to force a sale of WBAI if the station doesn’t get control of its finances. The station’s paid membership has sunk to 7,500 from nearly 20,000 members before a bitter year-long fight over control in 2001. Null and others have blamed the membership decline on self-serving programming decisions made by WBAI’s current managers.
According to Steve Brown, a former WBAI board member and a Null supporter, Pacifica faces up to $320 million in fines if the suit is successful. Null, who does not take a salary for producing his daily show at WBAI, but does charge the station a fee for each DVD, has said he is not interested in the money, but is demanding basic changes in the governance of the Pacifica Foundation.
Reportedly, more than 10 “well-known and respected” members of the progressive community have agreed to oversee a transition to a new governance method.
Since 2002, Pacifica has been uniquely governed by elected boards made up of listener members, employees and volunteers. But the system has become dysfunctional because of the tendency of the boards to be dominated by argumentative leftist groups that have found it impossible to agree on even the most basic issues facing Pacifica. The elections cost the cash-strapped network $200,000 each year.
One of Pacifica’s most popular shows, “Democracy Now!” hosted by Amy Goodman, has been under contract for a decade and receives more than $500,000 per year from the foundation. Goodman is reportedly owed more than $2 million in back payments by WBAI.
According to sources, many employees and volunteers are fuming at the perceived inequity of Goodman’s contract and have agreed to support Null’s suit.