Gary Null has just initiated a lawsuit against Bernard White, 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.
Regards, Steve Brown
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
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
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
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
preempt 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.