Demand a Democratic Restructuring of Chicago Public Radio

Posted by Scott - July 13, 2006 (entry 472)

CMA has been monitoring the threat by Chicago Public Radio, license holder of WBEZ-FM, to remove ALL music programming playing entire songs next year, even though it will be reaching Chicagoans via TWO (2) full power stations in the Chicago area by then. No program would contain more than "snippets" of music. Until recent months, the second station was planned to be primarily a music station. (Background articles here, here, and here.) CMA hesitated to join this battle earlier because our main concern is news and information - we thought perhaps there will finally be slots for the daily independent news program "Democracy Now!" and other quality and deserving but marginalized local news and information programs - of which there are many here. We hoped an agreement could be reached with the listeners - a similar battle erupted a few years ago and the listeners won. But so far, not this time. CMA's answer, as with public broadcasting generally, is to issue a call to democratize the process by which such decisions are made.

To date, no announcements whatsoever have aired on WBEZ even mentioning the planned major change. But in fact, ever since station head Torey Malatia arrived in Chicago, and even before in Seattle where he got fired for a similar move according to one source, he has stated his dislike of music formats on public radio. Tactically, the jazz, world, and blues music mainstays on WBEZ have been watered down over time, while classical and other marginalized yet influential musics continue to be overlooked entirely by the organization.

But the music issue has not gone away. In fact, amazingly, in spite of public meetings, an online forum with Malatia, station web site listener blogs here, a boycott website here, and the save the music campaign web site here - all filled with lots and lots of complaints from thousands of listeners, and relatively few supporters of the move - Chicago Public Radio management appears to be sticking to its guns. No music blocks.

One particularly upset listener called Malatia "the Donald Rumsfeld of public radio." Another states, "It never fails to amaze me when a dictator like Torey Malatia gets into a position in life where he can force his whims and ideals on the majority of a population," Daniel Arnswald wrote on the blog. "It's time to demand his removal ... if for no other reason than gross ignorance."

The real issue goes beyond any particular music program, genres, or any single individual. The real problem is that the Chicago Public Radio board of trustees is 100% unelected and therefore, unaccountable. So we are asking for democracy within Chicago Public Radio - NOW! The kind of autocratic bullying on the part of the station described here and in the linked articles must cease once and for all. The WBEZ trustees are going to have to reconsider the whole way they do business. As a CMA organizer, I have created and am facilitating an open forum within the public's space on the WBEZ web site in the "listener services" section for the express purpose of providing a place where all concerned can speak their minds about a democratic structural reform of the station. CMA urges "everybody to contribute to this discussion including members, nonmembers, trustees, management, advisory committee members and funders... Nobody has "the answer" - we can only arrive at that together." Definitely check this new online forum out.

posted by Scott Sanders, Chicago Media Action
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