Imagine Peace: The Cost of Free Speech

Category: Nature & Science Views: 1321

The U.S. might not have bombed Iraq on the eve of last Ramadan if most Americans got their news from broadcast stations such as KPFA radio in Berkeley, CA. Even if the bombing had occurred, the subsequent impeachment proceedings — postponed that night in honor of presidential prerogative — would probably have focussed on international law as opposed to marriage vows. So it’s doubly unfortunate that KPFA is falling under the same corporate axe that has already lobotomized most of America’s public and private news media.

My hypothesis about KPFA and Iraq is actually old news. In The U.S. Press and Iran: Foreign Policy and the Journalism of Deference, William Dorman and Mansour Farhang argue that the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979 might never have taken place if the American public had received accurate information during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s about what was actually going on. The authors compared information that was readily available and actually reported to the New York Times during that period to information that the Times deemed "fit to print." They concluded that critical information was consistently suppressed at the editorial level by a press structure that should more correctly be described as "commercial" as opposed to "free."

On the eve of the 1991 bombing of Baghdad, a front-page story in the Financial Times of London reported that mid-term Congressional elections were taking place in the U.S. but that the imminent shipment of tens of thousands of U.S. troops overseas into hostile action had not emerged as an electoral issue. The Brits may have had a hard time believing that, but I didn’t. In San Francisco, the color of a dress worn by candidate Dianne Feinstein seemed to receive more press coverage at the time. The only in-depth analysis of impending hostilities that I remember in local newspapers was a lengthy personality analysis likening Sadaam Hussein to Adolf Hitler.

The point here is an obvious divergence of democratic and corporate interests. And each of us has to decide whether we want to be citizens or consumers. From the perspective of a citizen in a democracy, I want accurate and in-depth information from a free press that, for one thing, will keep my relatives, neighbors and tax dollars out of frivolous wars. From the perspective of a consumer in a corporate bureaucracy however, I may be quite happy with sports, celebrity news and low gas prices for my sport utility vehicle, regardless of who has to die. From a citizen’s perspective, I want more, not fewer KPFAs. From the corporate perspective, KPFA probably just does not yield attractive profit ratios: free speech will be great some day, as soon as we figure out how to drive the cost down.

Granted, the "free speech" situation in the U.S. could be worse. An Egyptian Muslim told me once that in his country it’s not safe to stand on a street corner and scratch your head. You might get arrested for thinking about conspiring to overthrow the government, he said. The U.S. situation could also be better. In the mid-1980s, an article published in Mother Jones indicated that the Israeli press regularly reported violence by its own government against innocent Palestinians that was consistently ignored in the U.S. media.

I don’t know what type of coverage KPFA provided during all of these earlier crisis situations, and I don’t mean to imply that the current difficulties at KPFA are due to controversial news coverage of the Arab world. The point is that up through last Ramadan, KPFA radio had fiercely defended the principle of free speech for almost half of a century, and emergence onto the World Wide Web had extended the station from a local resource to an international resource. It’s likely that a good bit of the programming and opinions may not have matched the views of a conservative Muslim audience. It didn’t always coincide with my views. But after last Ramadan I decided to become a contributing member. Far too often for my tastes, struggles over free speech actually have to do with commercial issues, such as pornography and cigarette advertising. At KPFA, the focus was on real political and social issues. At just a few dollars a month, I figured the cost of free speech was a bargain, whether I agreed with everything that was said or not. Pacifica Foundation, KPFA’s parent organization has recently upped the ante, however.

On February 28, the Pacifica National Board decided to remove the KPFA local advisory board (community input) from its national governance board. On March 31, the Pacifica Foundation executive director fired the KPFA general manager and ordered the KPFA staff not to mention the firing during their news broadcasts. The staff reported the firing publicly anyway, which led to more firings. On July 13, the remainder of the KPFA staff was locked out of the building. Eighty-eight non-violent protestors had been arrested as of July 18. Commercial speech seems to have won for now, but the struggle continues. Daily updates can be found on the Internet at and at

Considering the decades of carnage in Iran and Iraq at the altar of cheap Western oil and under the blessing of commercial speech, Muslim groups that are beginning to find effective voices in the American political landscape should also consider supporting efforts to restore KPFA. Granted, such efforts are not likely to enhance Muslim stature in elite circles of economic and political power. But such efforts will support the very free speech that has enabled Muslim growth in the American political process. Flawed as that process may seem, it certainly beats the heck out of scratching your head on a street corner in Egypt.

Imagine Peace.

Hassaun Ali Ibn Musa Jones-Bey directs the Imagine Peace Project at

  Category: Nature & Science
Views: 1321
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