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Complainant: Cerene Roberts

The complainant references the August 25th candidate forum held at WBAI and alleges that it violates the 5th fair campaign rule because not all candidates were invited. The forum was arranged by candidate Jim Dingeman. The complainant asks for Mr. Dingeman to be disqualified.

The cited rule reads as follows:

Any listeners may organize community meetings to bring together listeners and prospective candidates for the purpose of learning about prospective candidates and collecting petition signatures.  Any such events may be announced on-air provided they have been approved by the Election Supervisor, are open to all nominated candidates, are open to any listener, are in a handicap-accessible location, do not endorse any candidates, raise money for any candidates, or promote events to raise money for any candidates.

Discussion: The original complaint filed has been revised so we will address both the original and the amended complaint.

The first clarification needed is the nature of the cited rule. As it states, any listener may organize a community meeting for the purpose of learning about candidates and prospective candidates. Such events are an expression of free speech and are not policed by the election supervisor. The jurisdiction of the NES is specific to whether or not such events are sanctioned by the Pacifica election process and may be promoted on-air or otherwise utilize network resources. The standards an event is required to meet in order to receive such sanction and use network resources are contained in the second sentence.

The initial question to be determined is whether the event was announced on-air. In the original version of the complaint, the complainant claimed that an on-air promotion had occurred in the 5 to 6am hour on August 24th during Back of the Book. The mp3 file provided with the complaint was unplayable and the WBAI Archives neither played nor downloaded the file. The reference to an on-air promotion during the 8-24 Back of the Book program has since been removed from the complaint. In attempting to research whether or not on-air promotion had occurred, the NES spoke to candidate Dingeman and he confirmed that it had.

We want to be clear that neither a forum coordinator nor a station program director should assume that an election event can be promoted on air without specifically asking. Permission should not be assumed and airing promos without permission is a rules violation.

The second question to be determined is whether the forum met the standards for on-air promotion. The rule cited states that the forum “must be open to all nominated candidates”. There is no evidence that the forum was not open to all nominated candidates, as the organizer stated on repeated occasions that it was and a Youtube video of the event (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=76R0K4b6acU ) shows multiple candidates from each of the candidate groupings participating including candidates Brinkley, Salaam, Bryan and Kilgour from Justice and Unity, De Palma and Dingeman from ACE and Albaiti and Devine from Red Wave.

The complainant states that the forum was not open to all due to the nature of the invitations, which were generalized announcements on Pacifica and WBAI-related email lists. We agree that not all nominated candidates necessarily subscribe or read such lists and that the common practice is, and should be, that forum organizers request email contact information for all candidates from the NES and specifically invite each candidate. The NES contacted the forum organizer/candidate Dingeman after the initial forum (3 more are now scheduled), provided the contact information, and stated that individual invitations should be sent and candidate Dingeman complied. Since the rule does not specifically state this requirement, we cannot cite that a rule was broken since the forum was factually open to all, but best practices were not followed. We have asked for remedy and remedy was provided.

RULING: The candidate organized a forum and pursued on-air promotion without explicit permission from the NES. Candidate Dingeman is hereby warned of a first strike with regard to the Fair Campaign rules. Any further violation will result in disqualification as a candidate.

So, what do you think ?