Ralph Nader was in Atlanta Friday night. He didn’t arrive in Tampa until hours before his scheduled address Saturday at the People Have the Power Rally.
But as he walked into the Sun Dome, he was already well aware of the controversy surrounding his visit. That controversy has been brewing for more than a week at WUSF-89.7 FM, USF’s National Public Radio affiliate station.
WUSF and the group Democracy Rising have been at odds since Interim Station Manager JoAnn Urofsky did not allow the group to advertise Nader’s visit because she said it was political in nature. In addition, USF President Judy Genshaft supported the decision.
Nader said during a news conference held before his address he is no more politically controversial than other organizations involved with WUSF.
“We were prohibited (from advertising) on the grounds that, according to the university which owns this station, I am controversial and political,” Nader said. “Well, so are the corporations that donate money to this radio station. So are the people who they have interviewed, and so are the people who have spoken at the University of South Florida to begin with.”
Nader said the situation with WUSF is a microcosm of the problems with public radio that have developed nationwide. He said large corporations, which he has spoken against for decades, are now influencing public broadcasts.
“(Removing my ads) is not a sensible and rational response at all, but it does illustrate a spreading crisis in public radio all over the country as they confront the dilemma of remaining controlled by civic values or succumbing to corporate commercial values and corporate donations,” Nader said. “Some stations are holding the standard up fairly well and others are succumbing to increasing corporate commercial influence which is completely contradictory to the fundamental, founding public philosophy of public radio several decades ago. It was absolutely founded to be non-commercial.”
Political author Michael Moore, whose book Stupid White Men is currently on the best-seller list, mentioned the WUSF controversy as he spoke to the 6,200 spectators at the Sun Dome.Moore said before his address he felt, in a perfect world, there should not be paid advertisements at all on public radio. But, he said, the radio should advertise public events.
“They should publicize the fact that there is a big citizens’ event, absolutely, that’s part of a democracy,” he said.
Moore said he had heard about the actions members of Democracy Rising had taken on Thursday. The group marched on WUSF and the president’s office, armed with a video camera to question officials as to why its ads had been pulled. The video of the protest borrowed from a technique Moore created and was shown to the crowd on a big screen at the rally.
Moore said the protest was a good idea.
“It’s wrong for them to want to be quiet about stuff like this. It’s important for people to know what’s going on, and you want people to get involved with the democratic process,” he said. “I mean, geez, we live in a country where 50 percent don’t vote, so why would you want to reduce anything that’s encouraging people to get involved?”
Moore said he wasn’t sure why the ads were pulled because he sees them as letting people know that a citizen’s event was taking place in the community.
“I assume this is a nonprofit organization. It’s not partisan. It’s not republican or democratic or green or whatever,” Moore said. “So what’s the problem?”
Moore said the problem probably lies in the fact that a lot of people are upset with Nader in Florida. Nader is blamed for taking votes away from Gore and costing him the closest election in history.
“They should just get over it,” Moore said. Moore said differing opinions and different ideas are what citizens should want in a democracy. He said the public can’t lose its freedoms.
“How is it in a time when we’re all supposed to be fighting for our freedoms that we take away our freedoms at home?” Moore asked. “How is that progress?”
Contact Rob Brannonat firstname.lastname@example.org