Gary Null has just initiated a lawsuit against Bernard White, Don Rojas, USOC, WBAI and Pacifica. Bernard White and WBAI have already been served at the station. Pacifica has not yet been served and may not yet know of the suit. However, although the suit is of public record (it was filed in NY State Supreme Court), neither White nor WBAI has yet informed members of this suit.

Therefore I have read a copy of the complaint and have attached the enclosed report, which summarizes the complaint and what effect it may have on WBAI. The opinions expressed in this report are mine alone, and do not (necessarily) reflect those of other LSB members, whom I believe have not seen nor been informed of this lawsuit.

This is a shame. This lawsuit did not have to happen.

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Free-Speech Radio Activist Gary Null
Sues Free-Speech Radio Station WBAI
For Violating His Free Speech Rights

Award-winning radio reporter speaks out for the right to speak out

By Steve Brown

NEW YORK– Gary Null, host of "The Natural Living Show," America’s longest-running radio program on health and nutrition, has just filed a lawsuit against radio station WBAI-FM in New York State Supreme Court. Null's complaint charges violation of his right to free speech, breach of contract, and "wrongful, deceitful and fraudulent actions."

Also named as defendants are the Pacifica Foundation of California (WBAI’s parent corporation), Bernard White (WBAI’s program director), Don Rojas (WBAI’s former general manager), and USOC (a WBAI staff committee).

Null seeks reinstatement of his radio program and compensatory damages against the station of $32,500. He also alleges a prima facie tort against WBAI’s program director, Bernard White, for “intentional infliction of harm” and “wrongful, deceitful and fraudulent actions.” Null is seeking punitive damages against White in the amount of $65,000 together with interest costs and disbursements.

Both WBAI and Mr White were served on Thursday, December 21, in the station’s offices at 120 Wall Street, in Manhattan.

Mr Null alleges that his radio show, which had been broadcast continuously on WBAI for nearly 27 years, had been cancelled improperly, and that Mr Rojas and Mr White illegally had deprived him of air time to which he was contractually entitled under the station’s operating agreement with its staff union.

Null further alleges that the station has violated the principles of free speech embodied in its own corporate charter and bylaws – by imposing a “gag-rule” on his radio broadcasts and attempting to censor the information he was allowed to share with his listening audience.

WBAI has long been revered as a model of “free-speech radio” by the progressive community.
Unlike commercial radio stations, it does not accept advertising. Instead, it relies for its income on voluntary contributions from its listeners, who believe in, and support, its free-speech principles. That is why Mr Null’s testimony about alleged free-speech violations by the station could have considerable impact on future listener support.

According to internal station documents, and the statements of former management personnel, Null’s audience used to donate up to one-third of the station’s annual operating revenue. (Null continues to be one of the top fund-raisers for other Pacifica radio stations, in Los Angeles and in Washington, DC.)

That is why Null’s abrupt firing on December 1, 2004, was such a shock to station staff and listeners. Many viewed the manner of Null’s firing as unprofessional, not to mention discourteous and humiliating. According to the lawsuit (and in violation of the union contract), Null was given no legal notice, nor was any reasonable explanation for his firing ever made to Null himself or to his audience.

The reasons for Null’s firing still remain a puzzle – especially when the termination of its most popular program (and best fund-raiser) has cost the station so dearly. One WBAI insider estimates that the ongoing revenue loss from Null’s departed audience may be as high as $1 million per year, and that the total revenue loss, to date, may approach $3-$4 million.

Indeed, since Null’s departure, the station has been plagued by declining revenues, budget deficits, and the need to lay off personnel. According to Arbitron, audience ratings for Null’s former time slot have plummeted, and many of the station’s other programs, including its flagship public affairs program, “Democracy Now!,” are off by as much as 60%.

The station’s ability to raise money from its listeners – basically its only source of funding – has also deteriorated, with daily average contributions continuing to fall. The station must now pre-empt regular programming for 95 to 100 days a year in order to conduct on-air fund drives.

After Program Director White (a defendant in Null’s lawsuit) had fired Null, he told WBAI’s governing board that Null’s audience did not actually contribute significant revenue to WBAI. But this was contradicted by internal station records and the testimony of present and former station personnel.

Mr White also told the board that Null’s program was not popular, and that the listening audience wanted a change. This, too, was contradicted by the records, which indicate that Null’s program was the most popular on the station – rated No. 1 (according to Arbitron) for all of its 27 years on the air. Nor was its quality ever in dispute – Null is the recipient of 11 Silver Microphone awards (“the Pulitzer Prize of broadcasting”) as well as numerous other awards for investigative journalism and broadcasting excellence, and his recent documentary on the Iraq War, “Friendly Fire,” was selected for special viewing at the last Cannes Film Festival.

According to Null, “this lawsuit did not have to happen.” He said he had made every effort to avoid it, but the behavior of General Manager Rojas and Program Director White had left him no other recourse.

Null's lawsuit might not only saddle the station with substantial legal bills, but could also give it a major publicity black-eye – as mainstream media entertain their audiences with the spectacle of a self-proclaimed “free-speech radio station” being sued for violating the free-speech rights of one of its own broadcasters.

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