The Coastal Post - November, 1997

Freedom Of Speech On The Radio

By Karen Nakamura

"Never underestimate the power of corruption to rewrite history." -Oliver Stone

One thing we cherish about these United States is our right to freedom of speech. But what happens when a segment of society isn't allowed their say? Isn't this a violation of their most basic rights?

Most immigrants have little or no voice in the mainstream media. When was the last time you heard an immigrant explain their position on national TV-without being prefaced by ridicule-even though they could teach us a lot about wherever they come from? Not too often. One of these groups is the Arab-American community.

The majority of Marinites, and that includes most Jews, are supporters of the Middle East peace process begun by Yizzak Rubin and Yasser Arafat. Any thinking person can readily understand the only way to return peace and prosperity is by mutual respect of each other's point of view.

That's why so many California Jews established dialogue with Palestinians when the peace process was in full bloom. Remember the many synagogues that held interfaith services with various groups including Muslims? And what faction was it that killed Rubin?

In this context then, the Coastal Post has received reports of blatant discrimination by KSFO and KGO talk radio of not allowing Arab views to be heard.

Marie Zaia, a Christian who comes from Iraq, reports she has called both stations to correct what she considered lies or misrepresentations. She's been disconnected or put off numerous times. When she has gotten on the air, it's been a fiasco. Talking to others in her community, she found many had had the same experience. They were cut off at the pass.

Is this really what one should expect from a large San Francisco station? We called KGO for their reaction, speaking to Barbara Lane, executive producer of operations. Her response to our question about discrimination against the Arab-American voice was:

"No such complaints have been brought to my attention. In fact, we welcome input coming from all perspectives, especially when we're dealing with such a sensitive and volatile area as the Middle East."

She spoke of the care the Ron Owens Show took when, at great expense, it broadcast from Jerusalem. "He made sure all his interviews were balanced between both sides."

This seems to be true. Ron Owens has a reputation of being somewhat balanced lately. However, there is a six-year-old tape of him saying the only way to live with Arabs was to keep them under your heel. We'll grant he may be becoming more enlightened, though many disagree.

But several other talk-show hosts aren't. These shows, often on KSFO, openly advertised as conservative, viciously knock Arafat and Arabs in general and particularly anger Arab-Americans, especially when they can't respond to what they consider a distortion of facts. KSFO and KGO are under the same management.

Many Arab callers feel the problem isn't with the choice of guests, whether in Jerusalem or San Francisco, but with screeners at the station who negate opposing views by not allowing Arabs on the air.

When asked about this, KGO's Barbara Lane answered. "I supervise the screeners (on KGO and KSFO) and we have many. They're trained not to discriminate against callers, especially on something as sensitive as the Middle East. Besides, that's the whole point of the programs, to present different points of view. Opposing views are what make these programs interesting. However, if someone is not articulate or if their point of view is off-mark, they'll get cut. We only put the best calls on the air."

The Coastal Post asked if Ms. Lane knew the percentage or number of Arab callers allowed to talk. She said it was impossible to estimate with talk shows airing day and night. When pressed for a ballpark figure, she said she had no idea, but they try to be balanced.

We called our Arab neighbors to get their reactions. Maria Zaia's response was:

"If you want to talk against Israel, they don't let you. Michael Savage of KSFO is the worst. One time, when I managed to get on the air, he called me all kinds of names. One was that I was a donkey desert and 'you love donkey' or something like that. I've heard him call other callers Nazis and asked them if they were going to put on their uniforms.

"He hangs up on callers, then tells the audience the caller hung up. That's how he controls them. He says it's his program. One screener even told me when I objected to being cut off that if I wanted my voice heard I should buy my own radio station."

Another man, who prefers to be called "Bob Marin" for our purposes, is mad because he recently heard Michael Savage mention that Disney Corporation had done something wrong, but he wasn't going to talk about it because Disney owns the station. Disney owns both KSFO and KGO. "So where's the free speech, when we can't be heard and they won't report on their bosses and sponsors?" Bob asks.

Maria added. "If people like us aren't allowed on the air to explain to what we see happening-and remember, we have family and friends there and we read the papers from there-how are Americans going to understand what's happening? The American media isn't allowing the other side to have its say. Therefore, they're controlling the news."

The Coastal Post next talked to Wafa Darwazeh. If the name is familiar, it's because he had a program on KQED for about 10 years. Even he had trouble getting his views across, and his was the Arab slot. Apparently, there was a letter campaign from the Likud right wing faction to fire him. (Labor is for the peace process.) He was fired. Since then, he's become an active and respected voice in the Arab community. He explained the discrimination issue this way.

"This is how the stations work it. They say, 'If we put you on, we'll lose business. It's not you. We're not biased.' They cater to the Jewish audience because it has greater buying power.

"There are people who try to be productive. Ray Taliafero on KGO at 1-5 a.m. is very balanced. He'll let you talk as long as it doesn't go too far. And Jimmy Easton is okay. But our views aren't given a fair hearing, even with me, and I'm articulate enough to have had my own show. Even your Edward W. Miller in the Coastal Post, who does a lot of research and tells you the facts, has many objectors. Any observer would know what we go through."

Denial of speech happens much more than we'd like to think. Those who don't lock step with the social norm are branded kooks or morons. Consider the tight lid on liberal and left-liberal ideas in the media. It is the very reason the Coastal Post exists. And because we give ear to "kooks and morons," we often break important stories that are later picked up by the very mainstream media that brands us weird.