Wednesday, January 13, 2010

WBAI Local Station Board Members Elected Under Storm

WBAI-FM experienced a raucous election process for the nine listener and three staff seats on the local station board (LSB). Candidates called themselves independent, Justice and Unity Team members or Take Forward WBAI Coalition aligned. The ballot counting for the December 10, 2009 election resulted in Mitchell Cohen, Lynne Stewart, Alex Steinberg, Nia Bediako, Andrea Fishman, Russell Dale, Elizabeth Brown, Betty J. Dopson and Manijeh Saba for listener seats and Kathy Davis, Janet Coleman and Daniel Vila for staff seats.

Betty Dopson said “I will do my best to work cooperatively and collaboratively to find creative means to keep the station on track.” Ms. Dopson keyed into identifying someone to be responsible for fundraising and an office with much lower rent.

Getting to these seats was surrounded by grave irregularities. Use of an incorrect voter list disenfranchised 10,000 eligible voters who did not receive ballots. A significant number of unpaid staff did not receive ballots because WBAI management rejected the unpaid staff union voter list. A suit was filed by 26 listeners and unpaid staff seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the election; however, Judge Michael D. Stallman denied the preliminary injunction (Index # 116301/2009), December 7 due to not meeting the burden of proof that immediate and irreparable harm would occur if the election was held.

The Justice and Unity Campaign is undeterred by the decision. WBAI producer Mimi Rosenberg, Esq. stated “The denial will be appealed and proceed in the Supreme Court with the underlying law suit.”

At the heart of the struggle over who sits on the board is whether board composition results in a collaborative effort to produce radio programs that report on and address issues of concern for the various communities and cultures within the metropolitan listening area. WBAI’s antenna transmits to southern New Jersey, downstate New York, and southern Connecticut. LSB member Lisa Davis remarked, “There are people who discuss issues but actually have no experience with them.” Rosenberg concurred by saying, “We must support our communities right to tell their stories. Maintaining WBAI as the radio broadcast vehicle that permits those ignored by mass media is invaluable.”

WBAI programming changes include reducing Wake Up Call by five hours, dated national programming and celebrity-hosted programs under interim general manager LaVarn Williams. “WBAI isn’t competing with Air America or NPR,” remarked Rosenberg. Ms. Dopson does not agree that celebrity hosting is the means to covering local issues. Perhaps Mimi Rosenberg aptly describes the listeners sought as “two credit card households.”

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