Taxpayer-Funded Pacifica Radio Planning to Air Al-Jazeera Audio

It might seem impossible, but the radical-left taxpayer-funded Pacifica Radio network is in negotiations to get even more anti-American in its orientation. It's negotiating with Al-Jazeera for its five stations to broadcast audio from the Al-Jazeera English cable TV channel, which is only marginally available in the United States.

Those five stations (KPFA/Los Angeles, KPFK/Berkley, KPFT/Houston, WBAI/New York, and WPFW/Washington, DC) together received more than $1.6 million in annual grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, according to their 2008 annual report (p. 57). Al-Jazeera is most notorious for its repeated broadcast of unedited Osama bin Laden tapes after 9/11, offering al-Qaeda a global media platform.

Paul Farhi of the Washington Post reported Thursday that "If an agreement is reached, Pacifica would become the biggest American broadcaster to air Al-Jazeera." Pacifica executive director Arlene Eckhardt declined to comment on negotiations, but spoke favorably of the Arab network: "I appreciate the viewpoints they bring and see them as offering an international perspective that our news media doesn't always offer."

Pacifica, which often suffers from nasty internal left-wing factionalism in its ranks, is hardly going to take this step without dissidents from within: 

Pacifica's parent organization, the Pacifica Foundation in Berkeley, Calif., has been negotiating with Doha-based Al-Jazeera to carry the audio portion of its English-language TV channel, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Closing a deal with Pacifica, which is known for its liberal-leaning [!] programming, would be a boost for Al-Jazeera. The network, owned by the emir of the Persian Gulf state of Qatar, has struggled to gain a foothold in the American market. After four years of operation, Al-Jazeera English can be seen only in the Washington area and two other cities, Burlington, Vt., and Toledo, Ohio.

The negotiations, which have not been disclosed publicly, are already drawing criticism from within Pacifica. In an internal memo to the organization's national board, Steve Brown, a former member of the board overseeing Pacifica-owned WBAI-FM in New York, advised Pacifica to consider "the blowback" from associating itself with Al-Jazeera.

"Al-Jazeera is a totally government owned and funded broadcast entity," Brown wrote. "It claims to be independent and unbiased, but what broadcast entity can afford to bite the hand that feeds it (especially when that hand can also, literally as well as metaphorically, cut out its tongue)?"

Brown also criticized Qatar's human-rights record and its treatment of women and political prisoners.

But the most critical issue, he said, was "the Jewish Question" -- that is, the reaction of Pacifica's Jewish listeners and financial contributers to airing a network funded by the head of an Arabic state. "It is not even surmise, but an absolute certainty, that if we broadcast Al-Jazeera...support from many and perhaps most of our Jewish listeners could vanish overnight."

Will Republican politicians respond by pressing executives at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting about their funding of Pacifica stations? Former Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.) used to call for a symbolic vote to reduce the CPB budget by $1 million as a protest against CPB funding of Pacifica stations. 

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis