iPNB meeting docs
Statement from the striking Pacifica
National News stringers
Read at the iPNB meeting and posted at:
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE INTERIM
PACIFICA NATIONAL BOARD
January 13, 2001
Dear interim Pacifica Board members,
As you know, freelance reporters at Pacifica Network News went on strike in January 2000 to protest the wave of firings, bannings and censorship within the network. That censorship reached directly into Pacifica Network News when news director Dan Coughlin was "reassigned" after running a 30-second news story about a one-day affiliate station boycott of Pacifica a national event which was reported by many other news organizations. Shortly thereafter, long-time anchor Verna Avery Brown was forced out of her position for her support of Dan.
When we went on strike to protest these developments, we constituted not only a majority of the newscast's stringers, but also a majority of workers at PNN. In the two-month period preceding the strike, nearly 70% of Pacifica's stories came from its freelancers (as shown by the bylines on Pacifica's own web page). Many of us received a substantial portion of our income through our PNN work.
Though we are not formally represented as a bargaining unit by an AFL-CIO union, many of us are members of other unions, including the National Writers' Union, which represents freelancers across the nation. We are a group of individuals from around the world who share the same employer, and who felt compelled to act in order to try to prevent the destruction of Pacifica as a credible news source. We organized ourselves independently as Pacifica Reporters Against Censorship. (The union for paid staff at PNN, AFTRA, had never shown any interest in representing us, nor were we eligible to join it. This article from American Writer will give you some idea of the dynamics involved.) By organizing ourselves and taking collective action, we acted in the labor movement's best traditions of solidarity. Our strike has been endorsed by five AFL-CIO labor councils and by dozens of national and local unions (see list attached) as well as hundreds of individual progressives. You can learn more about the strike at http://www.savepacifica.net/strike/infoarchive.html.
Since we struck, some one hundred additional reporters from around the world have joined our picket line by refusing to file for Pacifica and filing instead for our daily newscast, Free Speech Radio News (FSRN). Fifty stations nationwide now carry FSRN. Most of these stations have cancelled PNN to run FSRN in its place. In fact, FSRN is now the newscast of the majority of Pacifica affiliates. FSRN has also brought many new stations onboard who were not previously affiliates. Meanwhile, PNN has declined sharply in quality since the departure of Dan Coughlin and Verna Avery Brown and the ensuing strike. Only a handful of affiliates still carry the program.
We are optimistic that Pacifica is embarking on a new path that will return it to its historic mission of peace and social justice. While we would like to be part of this transition, we believe that Pacifica Network News is completely inadequate to the task of informing Pacifica's listeners about current political and economic issues. For the last two years, it has employed top-down methods of newsgathering using a small contingent of Washington, DC-based staff reporters, and has relied heavily on a mainstream, non-union, corporate news service, Feature Story News, for much of its other coverage (please see our analysis of Feature Story News, written in Feb 2000 after our strike commenced).
Our vision for Pacifica's news is dramatically different than what exists now with PNN. FSRN has pioneered a grassroots, decentralized style of newsgathering which brings a greater variety of progressive voices to the airwaves. We've consciously moved beyond the beltway to cover national policy issues in the communities that are affected by them. We have unparalleled world news coverage from a vast network of progressive reporters with roots in the communities they cover. FSRN reporters file from every continent except Antarctica (see list below). Our correspondents in the Middle East and South Asia, in particular, have done a stellar job of reporting recent events. In addition, FSRN is the sole outlet for Mumia Abu Jamal's radio commentaries, which we broadcast and which we are also making available online in collaboration with the Prison Radio Project. We have a number of correspondents covering daily developments in Washington, DC, but we don't believe an entire newscast should be based there. Instead, FSRN is a truly national newscast. Using cutting-edge digital technology, it operates in a decentralized manner, with headlines produced at former Pacifica affiliate WMNF in Tampa, anchoring done by former PNN staffer Verna Avery Brown in Washington, and production completed in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City. And, of course, correspondents filing from around the nation and around the world.
As we move into our third year of production, FSRN continues to expand its coverage as events warrant. Pratap Chaterjee is now covering the humanitarian tragedy caused by the US bombardment of Afghanistan from inside that country, investigating connections between big oil and the restructuring of Afghanistan. South Asia reporter Sputnik Kilambi will return to Kashmir to cover the arms build-up between nuclear India and nuclear Pakistan. If military tribunals are held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, FSRN Caribbean reporter Shannon Novak will be in the courtroom. Africa correspondent Rupert Cook will travel to Mogadishu, Somalia -- potentially the next target in the Bush administration's war. Meantime, FSRN's Rafael Krafft will travel to Buenos Aires to cover Argentina's IMF-induced economic crisis and popular uprising, while Deepa Fernandez will fly to Porto Alegre, Brazil to cover the World Social Forum, one of the biggest gatherings of anti-globalization activists in the world.
FSRN also features wide-ranging and critical domestic reporting. Kata Mester on Capitol Hill covers the clampdown on civil liberties. An impressive pool of journalists, including Polk Award winner Robert Knight, Geoff Brady, Miranda Kennedy and Eileen Sutton bring daily news from the "first ground zero" in New York. Susan Wood weighs in from the United Nations, and an extensive team of domestic FSRN correspondents stays keenly focused on the U.S. peace movement and other domestic issues.
Pacifica Reporters Against Censorship operates collectively sort of a combination of a worker collective and a union. Daily editorial decisions are made by the frontline FSRN news staff; broader policy or political decisions, including hiring and big financial decisions, are referred to the PRAC strike committee. Major issues are discussed and voted upon by our entire membership. We have also initiated an "editorial advisory board" composed of affiliate news directors and radio journalists.
We would like to participate in returning Pacifica to its former role as the nation's pre-eminent progressive news network. Because discussion of our strike was tabled at this weekend's meeting due to time constraints, we ask you to contact us directly to begin negotiations. Our demands have long included an end to censorship throughout the network, justice for fired and banned staff, and the democratization of the network. We know it may take time for the board to resolve these issues. However, for the time being, we are open to negotiating an interim agreement whereby an independently produced FSRN could run on all Pacifica stations.
Congratulations on all your work thus far and best wishes for the new year.
The Pacifica Reporters Against Censorship strike committee
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