KPFA Staff/LSB Letters
From: Maria Gilardin [KPFA area]
Sent: Friday, August 27, 2004 2:47 PM
Subject: Why did staff inside KPFA not prevent the 10-year corporate raid?
[ KPFA Staff letter posted lower down on this page followed by another staff letter]
During the slow motion take over of KPFA that began in 1992 and reached its climax in the attempted sale of KPFA and the lock-out of station staff in 1999 we, community members and members of Take Back KPFA and the Coalition for a democratic Pacifica (CdP) waited, first patiently and then with more and more anxiety for a letter or statement from staff, alerting the community to the hijacking of KPFA and Pacifica.
That letter was never written. Had not three courageous programmers finally gone public KPFA listeners might never have known and the logo of another network might be disgracing the building on MLK Jr. Way today.
As somebody who picketed the Pacifica National office in Berkeley dozens of times in those seven years, who attended protest rallies when staff was kicked out, who was present at countless KPFA Local Board meetings where the restructuring of Pacifica became apparent to anybody taking the trouble to go and listen, I was amazed - as were many other Pacifica activists - at the passive, fearful silence, not to mention instances of outright support for those changes, coming especially from the long - time paid KPFA staff.
Since 1992, and for seven long years we put flyers into staff mail boxes, issued press releases to the media and copied them to staff; even setting up a micro power radio station outside of KPFA and tuning the receivers inside KPFA to the pirate frequency. We wrote messages in chalk on the sidewalk for you to see when you came out - and saw you leave through the back door. We called you personally on the phone, asked friends of yours to intervene and help rescue KPFA and Pacifica before it was too late. But save for the one exceptional action by three staff members, none of you who were there did anything for almost seven years - until the summer of 1999.
When Dennis Bernstein and two others called attention to the 1997 union contract that was signed as a sweetheart deal with KPFA mamagement, they were denounced by staff. Much later, when Nicole Sawaya was fired and her firing protested by Larry Bensky, Robbie Osman, and Dennis Bernstein, no unified support for Nicole came from staff who returned to the station without her.
From 1992 to early 1999, respected programmers went on the air, supported the purges of 1995, when 165 community programmers were dismissed all at once, and maligned Take Back KPFA and the CdP.
The New Pacifica is just 6 months old. When the National and Local Boards were seated in February of this year the time of hijacks and take-overs finally ended. This should have been a time to celebrate.
NOW, all of a sudden, in July 2004, you are writing a letter claiming that the newly elected board -or at least some of the members ? are your enemy. Others have dealt with some of the complaints. I am addressing those of you who signed the letter.
I am troubled by the signatures of unpaid staff whom I know, respect, and like. Why would you have signed a document that is largely based on incidents you did not take part in or witness? I asked some of the parties accused and their recollections differ considerably from the statements in the staff letter.
I am addressing the question of the presence of "saboteurs from former Pacifica Executive Director Pat Scott's regime" on KPFA staff because I think these parts of the letter are addressed at me.
It is easy to blame Pat Scott for everything. Bertolt Brecht wrote in his poem on history: (Julius) "Caesar conquered Gaul. Did he not at least have a cook with him?" Pat Scott could not have done what she and those who followed her did, if she had not had a lot of help. And having knowledge and not acting on it is a serious matter. There are issues of integrity, ethics, and responsibility involved. I am, of course, excluding all those who signed this letter who played no part in this. I am addressing those among paid staff of the period of 1992 to 1999, many of whom are still there, who were the supporters of the take-over.
The time line below gives the most important events in that slow motion take-over of KPFA and Pacifica, during which anyone present should have been aware of fundamental change taking place in the structure of the station, the bylaws, the governance, and the national office. It was a very serious matter, involving the plunder of millions of dollars of listener money over those many years. The time line shows how benefits accrued to those who collaborated, and lists the many missed opportunities to protect KPFA and Pacifica from the takeover. For the most part names have been withheld by me to still protect the guilty.
We, who worked for years in the Save KPFA and Pacifica movement, have never addressed that most important question:
Why did staff inside KPFA not prevent the 10-year corporate raid?
Many of current paid staff were inside the station between 1992 and 2002. You saw what was going on from day to day. Some of you held positions directly assisting the hijackers. And if you did not see it you saw us picketing the station, pleading with you to act. However, instead of ringing the alarm you ignored us and persecuted the lone whistle blowers inside the station.
You could have prevented the take over. We did not want to blame you. We were sure that ultimately even the collaborators would welcome change. Even those who helped Pat Scott and those who followed her could not have been happy in that role. We understand that he amount of intimidation was immense. Not everybody has the guts to stand up. We thought you would be relieved to live and work without fear and compromise.
However, now, just five months into the new era of Pacifica, many of the names of those who collaborated with the old regime appear on the staff letter of July 22, 2004. I know that the mainstream media feels empowered to re-write history, but when it happens at KPFA it must become a cause of wider community concern.
I am writing this because there are now two stories, two parallel narratives. The inside and the outside story of KPFA and Pacifica and they are totally different. Collaborators have become heroes, victims made perpetrators; actions and in-actions reverse their order. Michael Moore is right. We are living in fictional times. But we cannot allow fiction to invade KPFA.
Here is a list of some of your missed opportunities to save KPFA and Pacifica:
In June, 1993, KPFA was picketed by African-American programmers from KPFK in L.A. They were protesting Pacifica Executive Director Pat Scott's purges at our sister station. They had hoped for help from you ? none was forthcoming.
1994: Pat Scott changed the face of community radio by voting as a member of the CPB task force to peg CPB funding to Arbitron ratings, a decision that almost defunded KPFK and several other community stations. There was not a word from staff.
February 1995: Pacifica program directors were told to mainstream programming. The staff of KPFA voiced no opposition. Instead management at KPFA began to prepare the purges of August 1995.
March/April, 1995: Pat Scott hired the American Consulting Group, listed by the AFL-CIO as a notorious union-buster, to break the KPFA union (United Electrical Workers). Did nobody notice that they were there?
May 1995: Bill Mandel was fired for deviating from his subject matter and breaking the "Gag Rule". More than 60 people picketed the station ? no paid staff among them. Some of you went on the air and said it was a good thing to fire people who had been there so long and were "old". Now, that some of you have been there for almost as many years, "term limit"s is no longer talked about.
June 1995: The National Board began to hold secret meeting in violation of CPB funding guidelines. For the next two years, Take Back KPFA activists picketed at National Board meeting sites, often struggling to raise enough money to send representatives to other cities. There was never, in all these years any participation from paid staff until it was almost too late in 1999, until your own sinecures were threatened.
August 1995: All 7 to 8 pm weekday public affairs slots were replaced with music and 165 programmers, many of them community activists, were removed from the air. Some were informed, as they went on the air, that this was their final program. (The large number of 165 was due to the fact that these evening slots were programmed by collectives: Native Americans, Gay community, the Women's Department, Pacific Islanders etc.) This mass removal changed the demographics at the station in a dramatic way, since a substantial number of the evening programmers were people of color.
In the context of the 1995 purge four KPFA departments were eliminated without resistance from paid staff.
The Women's Department had as department heads, over time, an African-American, a Native American woman and a Latina. The Third World Department had an African-American woman as the long-time department head and the Public Affairs Department had an African-American department head and later two Latino directors. KPFA paid staff also agreed to the firing of the last FOLIO editor, and the termination of the FOLIO department, ending publication of, not only a literary supplement, and reference guide and resource, but an essential form of monthly outreach to KPFA's listeners, continuous since the station's founding in 1949.
All three programming departments (Third World, Women, and Public Affairs) had a degree of diversity. They also allowed for community participation in the programming of KPFA that no longer exists in the tightly controlled "air-strips" and remnants of PA programs that have become the private property of a host. Several paid staffers voiced approval of the demise of these departments on the air.
November, 1995: Brian McConville, investigator from the Inspector General's office of the CPB (Corp. for Public Broadcasting) launched an investigation into the violation of open meeting rules of the Pacifica National Board. Following Pat Scott's intervention with his boss, he was fired 17 days later and the investigation is suspended. At the time, both management and staff never bothered announcing that the meetings were even taking place.
May, 1996: The presence of the American Consulting Group at KPFA, and Pacifica, was exposed by Take Back KPFA. The producer of the labor program on KPFA did not have the courage to mention its presence in KPFA's union negotiations while interviewing a union activist on the role of the ACG in preventing union organizing at the Lafayette Park Hotel The rest of the staff also maintained radio silence concerning ACG's role at the station.
December, 1996: CPB's Deputy Inspector Mike Donovan was fired after attempting to continue the investigation into the violation of open meeting rules of the Pacifica National Board. No word from staff. Unconcerned with anything outside of the station's front door, paid staff probably didn't know about it.
1996-1997: The union at WBAI, the United Electrical Workers (UE), refused to submit to Scott's order to kick the unpaid staff from the union. While the WBAI/UE fought all the way up to the NLRB for inclusion of the unpaid staff in the bargaining unit - and even initially were victorious at the New York level (Feb. 1997) - KPFA paid staff knuckled under to Scott and left the UE and joined the CWA (Communication Workers of America), breaking solidarity with their sister union members in New York, and as well as with KPFA's unpaid staff who they unceremoniously booted out.
There was, however, a pay-off. In return for two-tier pay raises, job protection and a pension plan, staff agreed to NOT go on strike, NOT do sit down actions, and NOT employ work stoppages, slow downs or boycotts, sympathy strikes or corporate campaigns against management.
A courageous letter signed by three dissident staff members and former union stewards appeared in the S.F. Bay Guardian in October 1997, pointing out that: "CWA members granted management the absolute right to fire at will all on-air personnel hired after Sept. 1 1997. "
And "The new agreement, which both CWA and Pacifica have called "win-win," creates the same kind of unfair two-tier pay system that BART and UPS workers successfully opposed in their recent strikes. It specifically states that management can hire temporary workers for as low as $7.50 an hour for work for which other employees receive a substantially higher wage. "
Paid staff gave up all these rights at a crucial time where any such action as a work stoppage, slow down or boycott, sympathy strike or corporate campaign would have exposed the hijacking of Pacifica and the enormous financial fraud committed by the leadership.
March, 1997: Community members hired a lawyer to fight to retain the rights of local board members to sit on the National Board while Pacifica began to change the bylaws to make the National Board self perpetuating and exclude station board members and staff from the National Board.
1997: National Board meeting in Oakland: Take Back KPFA had a sizable picket outside the Oakland hotel where the board was meeting. Inside Mary Frances Berry was voted in as the new chair of Pacifica. KPFA representative and Board Secretary Roberta Brooks attempted to have a motion entered into the minutes as passed that had not been approved at the last meeting. A Take Back KPFA member held up a tape recording of that meeting to prove it. At that moment KPFA paid staff entered in their new CWA T-shirts. They read a prepared statement regarding their personal pay issues and left. We ran after them, pleading with them to stay and listen or to join the picket line outside. One and all, they refused.
With the exception of KPFA, the media were beginning to take interest in the story, and articles were posted and disseminated via the internet. While the urgency of the KPFA/Pacifica issue became increasingly apparent, paid staff kept completely silent.
The last chance for KPFA staff to write a letter came and went in February, 1999 when Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and Ed Herman wrote a moving appeal, alerting the public to the imminent danger. We ? the activists on the outside - hoped that, finally, staff would have the courage to put their names to that letter. They did not sign on - not even under the wings of luminaries such as Chomsky, Zinn and Herman.
That was the last chance to rescue KPFA and Pacifica before the lockout and occupation of the station by security guards. In retrospect it is evident that paid staff only began to act when their personal jobs were at stake. It is sad to say that a large number of paid KPFA staff seem to be people who see this not as a station that belongs to the community, accountable and inclusive, but as a place to pick up a pay-check.
When on July 14, 1999 armed guards, hired by Pacifica, tried to arrest Dennis Bernstein after he disclosed the attempt to sell KPFA on Flash Points, Dennis tried to find a way to warn listeners of the take-over by running upstairs to the news department. Mark Mericle was just reading the headlines and was getting ready to lead with a story on health care. As Dennis tried to get his attention and removed the feed reel with the story from the tape deck, Mark refused twice to deviate from his schedule. Only when the board operator opened the microphone and the sounds of the struggle went on the air did Mark report on what was going on.
The battle for Pacifica was not over when staff returned to the station after the 1999 lockout. Paid staff returned without Nicole Sawaya and accepted the appointment of Jim Bennett by the Pacifica National office in her stead.
Silence among the paid staff fell again on the station at the end of 1999 as the fight over the dissolution of the national hi-jack board of Pacifica continued. Most of staff did not participate in the law suits, in the pickets of National Board members, or in the boycott of Pacifica National News. Staff was very late in supporting Free Speech Radio News - started in a garage in Berkeley - and even late in supporting Democracy Now!
While members from community organizations, most notably from the CdP, were arrested at picket lines, and organized and financed the first two rounds of elections for a KPFA Local Station Board, staff retained their silence. Staff as a whole did not allow the Local Station Board to report on the developments of the bylaws via regular Local Station Board reports. Listeners who depend on the station to keep them informed about such things had to wait for sympathetic programmers to offer time.
KPFA staff as a group refused to participate in the boycott of Pacifica National. From 1999 until removal of the last hijackers from Pacifica's national staff in 2002, KPFA transferred to that office hundreds of thousands of dollars of listener donations used to fight the community and the lawsuits.
The crucial period from early 2002 until very recently saw KPFA and Pacifica under judge's orders to develop a new set of bylaws. The Local Station Boards and committees, several dozen people at each station worked, very hard at consensus. At KPFA the board held meetings at the station to make it easy for staff to participate in the writing of the bylaws. One staff member participated.
Listeners wrote into the bylaws unprecedented rights and representation for staff on the local and national boards, giving them 25% membership on all boards. Under the old bylaws staff representation was zero.
Community stations across the country interviewed members on the bylaws committees, and even participated in the process. But staff at KPFA for which the bylaws were written maintained an almost uniform silence.
The story repeated itself in changes concerning Program Councils. Many community stations have such councils: Madison, Wisconsin; Portland, Oregon; and the GRC (Grassroots Radio Coalition) contributed from their experience. KPFA staff almost entirely ignored the debates over responsibility and rights of Program Councils and then sabotaged the outcome by not attending meetings or overturning decisions taken in them.
In the years from 1999 to today, KPFA staff had unprecedented freedom to run the affairs of the station as they pleased. Pacifica's national office no longer interfered. There was an in-house General Manager who was willing to cooperate fully with paid staff. There was no Program Director for most of that time. KPFA paid staff was in charge -- and is now.
If there have been no significant changes in all these years, is it because KPFA is already perfect? Even the paid staff majority would not say that. Even friends of staff, such as Doug Henwood, say - terrible to hear - that "KPFA is irrelevant". KPFA is known as Pat Scott Radio because it still operates under the same system of NPR - derived structures, in violation of the founders intent, and with a paid staff lacking in diversity as it was in 1995.
KPFA, as a station, in spite of its freedom from interference by the National Board, has not participated in the media democracy movement, in the resurgence of community radio via the GRC, the micropower movement, Indy media or other efforts to free the air and open access. As a station with a huge staff and unprecedented resources KPFA has been unable even to conceive of what Amy Goodman has actually done, initiating a national media collaboration involving] radio (ranging from community to NPR stations) with television and the internet.
Democracy has a hard time coming to KPFA in spite (or some would say, because of) the leanings of so many paid staff members towards the Democratic Party. There can hardly be a clearer indication of entrenched and reactionary power, than more than a year's adamant resistance to shifting the station's most popular and respected program, Democracy Now! to a time when most working people can hear it. Ownership of airtime, turf and power have also prevented an open, honest discussion over strategies to produce the best possible programming for the station as a whole.
To those of you who read through this long and critical letter, please consider what is truly most to your advantage, and that of the community you have obligated yourselves to serve. Please support a free and democratic KPFA.
Open Letter to LSB
KPFA is first and foremost a radio station whose listeners count on the Pacifica Radio airwaves to provide an invaluable, independent source of multicultural news, information, music, and arts programming. There has been unparalleled community and national support in keeping this radio station alive and functioning by delivering KPFA back to the people from the devastating forces of the previous Pacifica National management and board. But once again, as in those terrible years surrounding the KPFA lockout and shutdown of 1999, KPFA is in a perilous place. Once again, it is a Pacifica governing body which has the power to break this place apart, and threaten its function at such a critical time.
Our newly elected KPFA Local Station Board is deeply divided, and has devolved into factions where extreme and constant mistrust, maligning, and infighting have spilled over into attacking KPFA staff to such a degree that the workplace is rife with fear, anger, compromised productivity, and the lowest morale since 1999.
Many staff members are aware of the following:
In the past few months, a number of Station Board members have targeted KPFA staff and management with demeaning and potentially libelous accusations about staff performance. They have fueled Internet "hit pieces" which have gone after several employees at KPFA. Some LSB members and their close allies have suggested that staff members are plants of former Pacifica Chair Mary Frances Berry. A board member has insinuated that our interim General Manager is a COINTELPRO agent. One LSB member attacked KPFA's youngest and newest staff members for their alleged ignorance and immaturity in understanding station affairs and supposed "slave mentality." Particularly disturbing are the anti-worker attacks by a group of LSB members, some of whom are union members, characterizing the station's staff as being only interested in keeping their jobs and expressing hostility to the integrity of the paid staff's union. In addition, the work of unpaid staff members has been devalued.
Staff representatives on the LSB are routinely insulted in the course of LSB meetings by fellow board members. Some members of the LSB have even called for "crushing the will of the staff." A letter protesting such behavior by certain LSB members towards KPFA union and non-union staff, written by the Secretary Treasurer of Communications Workers of America Local 9415 to the LSB, has yet to be addressed.
The LSB Chair asked that a now-resolved internal staff issue be broadcast far and wide to the public via email, even though it was a personnel and union matter beyond the purview of the LSB. In doing so, she has rendered the station vulnerable to potential litigation by the maligned staff member. Additionally, an internet editorial was written about the incident by someone close to the LSB Chair, which misrepresented the facts of the incident.
Our morning newscaster was named in a public meeting, and scorned by an LSB member, for a newscast she wrote which the LSB member cited out of context and without checking his facts; indeed she was attacked for saying something that she did not say.
Our interim General Manager has been subjected to repeated ridicule, harassment, and insult by the Local Station Board Chair about his alleged ineptness at fundraising. The LSB Chair went so far to refer to him as "the kiss of death". In fact, this is just one in a series of attacks on the interim GM.
Some staff on the payroll prior to 1999 have been accused of being saboteurs from former Pacifica Executive Director Pat Scott's regime who continue to block progress and continue in taking down the station, even though these same people risked arrest and were arrested, risked job loss with no other means of financial support while protesting, broadcasting, and while testifying before California state legislators in defiance of orders from Pacifica's Executive Director and the Chair of Pacifica's national board.
The affirmative action-based Apprenticeship Program has been demeaned in public, and dismissed as not serving the community's training needs in radio production, even though graduates of this unique program are teaching, producing, operating broadcasts, and coordinating the radio-related needs of collectives coming into KPFA from many different communities of all ages and abilities.
It is our understanding that there are some members of the LSB who would seek to cut music programming, when in fact music and arts programming are integral to Pacifica's mission. Since the LSB does not have a mandate to make programming decisions, we are disturbed by LSB members' comments (including those of the Chair) that they believe they were given a mandate by the listeners to cut music in favor of public affairs.
The KPFA Program Council cannot operate without a quorum, yet both the Program Council and KPFA's Interim Program Coordinator are challenged and harassed by LSB members for not convening meetings to conduct business, when, in fact, the LSB has failed to meet its responsibility to appoint members to the Program Council so a quorum can be achieved.
It is not, however, all of the LSB which is taking KPFA down. Some LSB members are fighting to curb these staff assaults and egregious charges; they are in turn being attacked for doing so. But the LSB's Chair, in particular, along with a number of other Board members, has created a fractious climate which risks lawsuits, and is prompting a steady departure of employees due to low morale. There is an unprecedented environment of threats, slurs and character assassinations taking place on her watch.
We do not wish to be condemned to repeat our tortured and embattled history. We wish to partake in constructive dialogue and work towards resolution to disagreements that may arise between staff and the LSB. It is incumbent upon the LSB to work with staff and management in a respectful, principled, and professional manner.
We hope that the LSB can at last do what they pledged to do during their recent campaigns: to have "no micro-management," "to have respect for all who work at KPFA," "to support the station," "to bring joy to our work," "to solidify our victory over reactionary forces that try to take over Pacifica," and "to foster a spirit of collaboration, collegiality, and humanity among the board, staff and management."
We ask the listeners to call to account those who were elected to represent KPFA's listening community. We know that the listeners did not elect representatives with the intention of putting the station in political and legal jeopardy. This December, seats on the LSB will be contested and those who value this station should scrutinize all candidates, incumbents and others, to find out where they stand, who they represent, and what vision they have for the station.
Aileen Alfandary, News Co-Director
If you would like to sign on to this letter email webmistress @ kpfa.org. Tell me your name and title/show.
Another KPFA Staff Letter
From: Reimers, Berthold
Open Letter circulated amongst KPFA progressive producers:
Dear Fellow KPFA Staffers,
An article in the Berkeley Daily Planet tells readers that KPFA is again in crisis. And a widely circulated letter signed by a group of KPFA staffers likens the crisis to that of `the terrible years surrounding the KPFA lockout and shutdown of 1999'. Such news will be greeted with dismay and frustration by KPFA's many friends. The station and the network have only recently emerged from that harrowing and exhausting fight for their lives and listeners who rose to the station's defense and to the defense of its mission with immense energy and who stood by KPFA throughout that long and difficult struggle will certainly not welcome the prospect of another.
It is important that listeners and staff members learn what is happening at KPFA and it's important that they have a chance to carefully consider what recent events may mean for the station's future. But by evoking the specter of `the devastating forces of the previous Pacifica National management' the staff faction's letter misrepresents the nature and origin of the differences and the character and intentions of the people with whom they disagree. The moment demands of all participants that we try to inform and persuade rather than frighten those we address. It is not necessary to pull punches or to minimize points of difference and the example of the near loss of Pacifica should never be forgotten but the signal to noise ratio of that letter is not helpful.
During the Pacifica conflict the defenders of Pacifica's mission challenged and, after tremendous effort, changed the governance of the network and of the stations. At the heart of the changes are new by-laws which were crafted in a long, open, and inclusive, democratic process and which give listener-members significant power in station governance through the Local Station Boards (LSBs). These new by- laws embody the hope that opening station decision-making to listener input and, to some extent, listener control will make the Pacifica stations more responsive to the progressive community and protect them from possible future take-over attempts.
The present conflict at KPFA is a result of resistance from some station staffers to implementing the reforms embodied in the new by- laws.
The signers of the letter fail to note some noteworthy differences between the old Pacifica board and the reformers who seem to have so alarmed them. The old Pacifica board built their power on the disempowerment of the listeners and unpaid staff. The reformers purpose is to bring listener input into the station's processes. The old Pacifica board was distant, unelected, and unsympathetic to - even ignorant of - the Pacifica mission. The reformers are long-time KPFA listeners and staffers who ran in the recent elections for seats on the Station Board hoping to help make the station as effective and vibrant a progressive voice as it can be. One way many Pacifica supporters came to appreciate the nature and seriousness of the threat posed by the old Pacifica board was by witnessing the old board's attacks on and eventually its attempt to eliminate Pacifica's flagship program, Democracy Now! The reverse is true in this situation. The tension between the present reformers and the signers of the letter was sparked by the decision of a reformer majority on the station's Program Council to move Democracy Now! to a better, more accessible airtime (so that listeners who work from 9-5 can hear it).
The old Pacifica board is not part of this dispute. The success of the KPFA community and of the nationwide Pacifica community in overturning their undemocratic rule itself has created new challenges. Our ability to find our way in this new landscape will depend, in large part, upon whether we choose to name the issues or to call names.
What's going on?
We have come to an impasse because some staff, long accustomed to the previous unaccountable ways of making decisions and wary of changes in the status quo, have flatly refused to accept the exercise of listener/board participation mandated by the new by-laws and other agreements which came out of the struggle. One of the staff-elected representatives to the Station Board articulated this view at a recent meeting of the Local Station Board. He told the Board that KPFA was like an airplane. The listeners were like passengers who should expect to pay for their tickets and then remain in their seats leaving the crew to fly the aircraft. It is crazy, he said, to let the passengers into the cockpit. He called the listener board representatives and those listeners who had come to watch the board meeting and to participate in the public comment segment of the meeting `self appointed guardians with too much time on their hands'. His unconcealed distain elicited outrage among many listeners but he declined a plea to apologize and his allies on the board refused impassioned requests that they disassociate themselves from his offensive formulation of the proper role of listeners in KPFA's deliberations.
The chief tactic of those who are resisting the democratization of decision-making at KPFA has been to, as quietly as possible, subvert the reforms while paying lip service to democratization. They are not always as open about their perspective as that staff-elected board member was at that unguarded moment but the unfortunate fact is that the airplane analogy is a frank expression of a widely held rejectionist stance.
After the immense effort by KPFA listeners to rescue KPFA and Pacifica from an isolated and self-selecting clique it is heartbreaking to hear people who should know better argue that the right to participate in station decision-making cannot be entrusted to people who are `unfamiliar with radio' (as another catch phrase of the reform-rollback effort has it). This is plain nonsense and it is sad to see that some of the same staffers whose willingness to disempower listeners and unpaid staff did so much to encourage and enable the Pat Scott/Mary Francis Berry/Lynn Chadwick assault on the network have returned to their old analysis of who is and who is not suitable for inclusion in station decision-making now that the threat from the old Pacifica Board seems eliminated.
People untrained in making radio programs should not be engineering call-in shows or asked to edit news feeds. But KPFA's listeners and supporters are capable of making thoughtful judgments about whether those call-in shows are covering issues that are of importance to them and they can make judgments about whether KPFA's newscasters or any other programmers are performing up to their standards.
Democratization is needed for KPFA's future health and effectiveness; bringing the perspective of listener-members into the station's `internal' deliberations will strengthen our work. When has insularity ever protected a progressive institution? But reasonable democratization is being resisted on the Program Council, at the Station Board, and in the General Manager Hiring Committee that the board has organized to find and vet a new manager. A militant minority of board members backing a faction of station staffers has time and again defied democratically arrived at decisions, disregarded fundamental rules of order, and sought to nullify by-laws-mandated reforms and in doing so have made democratic decision-making all but impossible. Then they point to the mess and invite people to conclude that democracy itself has failed.
The Program Council, Democracy Now! and how we got into this mess
The present rift that divides staff member from staff member and board member from board member first became apparent at Program Council. That is where some station staff began to stonewall the democratization that had been won during the Pacifica struggle and that is where the rejectionists started to cover their actions by misrepresenting the actions of the listener, unpaid staff, and LAB representatives to the Council. It's a long story but it's worth knowing what really happened.
KPFA's Program Council is charged with making programming decisions for the station. In the years leading up to the Great Pacifica Crisis only paid station staff participated it its deliberations and decisions. Today it is, at least in theory, composed of paid and unpaid staff, community representatives who are appointed by the LSB, and LSB members.
Unpaid staff, community, and board reps were brought onto the Council during the time of the Pacifica Wars when the demand for democratization was strong and the necessity of maintaining listener support was inescapable. But once the usurping Pacifica board was defeated such `members' learned that their right to take part in program decision-making had an absolute limit. Their power to participate in decision-making was recognized only so long as they confined their authority to decisions that did not affect the programs of long-time paid staff.
This became clear when morning programming became an issue on the Council. During the run-up to the war against Iraq questions arose about the scheduling of Democracy Now! DN! is, along with Flashpoints, the station's most popular and one of its most politically hard-hitting programs. KPFA was airing the wartime two- hour version of DN! broken into two parts which the station aired from 6-7AM and then from 9-10AM, which is to say before most people wake up and after most folks who work from 9-5 can listen. A temporary rescheduling of DN! during the crisis was proposed but rejected.
After the fall of Baghdad and after DN! went back to its one hour format the question of when the program should be aired remained in the minds of several of the Council members. Council members who wanted to discuss the question discovered that this issue could not be raised at Program Council. To be more accurate it was possible to put it on the agenda but never possible to get to it. Council members tried for weeks. Weeks became months. Months became many months. After it was inescapably clear that the question was being intentionally kept from climbing to the top of the agenda Council members who felt it was important to discuss the possibility moved and seconded a proposal to begin airing Democracy Now! at 7 in the hope that Robert's Rules of Order would be respected and a motion on the floor could not be avoided. No help. More weeks passed. Cries of misconduct were shined on. The subject was forbidden. Beyond a certain invisible line democratization was a pretense.
When Gus Newport became General Manager the unpaid staff, listener, and board Program Council representatives, begged him to take over as chair of the Council so that the issue could at last come up for discussion. Gus reluctantly agreed. At long last a meeting date was chosen for the discussion to take place and then rescheduled to accommodate the calendars of the Council's paid-staff members. The question of whether to change the time that DN! is aired was to be the only item on the agenda. There would be no more avoiding the question.
The date and time arrived as did the unpaid staff, listener, and board representatives. There were no paid staff. They just didn't show. None of the Council members assembled believed it was a coincidence.
After discussing KPFA's morning schedule for more than an hour during which those present considered analyses of fundraising results for DN! and the Morning Show, data on how many radios were turned on at relevant times, scheduling logistics and more, Aileen Alfandary, who had been hosting the evening newscast, arrived at the meeting. That meant that the meeting had a quorum. The question was put to a vote.
The Council members present voted unanimously (with one abstention) to air Democracy Now! at 7AM and air KPFA's Morning Show from 8- 10AM. This opened up the possibility of using the 5-7AM slot for new voices and wider communities (consideration of an evening or afternoon rebroadcast of DN! to accommodate listeners who had been tuning in at 9 but might not be awake at 7 was understood to follow shortly).
The vote was as much an effort to force the issue onto the table as an attempt to impose a final decision. It said to the absent Council members in effect, if you don't get serious about discussing this issue this vote will stand. There is no reason why the absent paid staff members could not have come to the next meeting and moved to reopen the question. Not one Council member would have refused. In fact, the discussion would have been welcomed. But that would not have suited their purpose. It had been clear for months that opening the question was exactly what they had been unwilling to allow.
Instead they chose to make an issue of the fact that the vote had occurred when they were not present. Today when listeners or other KPFA staff ask the station's leadership how they justify refusing to accept the legitimate decision of the Council they say that it is because the unpaid, listener and board representatives snuck the decision past those who opposed the change at a moment when they weren't looking.
But that won't stand up to the light. The eight votes for the change that were recorded at that meeting represented an absolute majority of the membership of the Council. Even if every other Council member had attended and all of them had voted the other way the motion could have carried. That means that there was no motive for the unpaid staff, LAB, and listener representatives to rush a vote in order to take advantage of a moment when those who might disagree would be denied their votes because they happened not to be there.
When compelled to recognize that reality, the no-show Council members claim that the unfairness of the decision lies in the `fact' that because the vote took place in their absence they were denied an opportunity to argue their position. But that can only persuade people who do not know that for months they had refused unending efforts to bring the issue to the table and that afterwards they chose not to exercise their power to put the question back on the table.
The fact is that the decision was made with as much open discussion as the paid staff Council members' determination to prevent a discussion would permit.
In the face of the station administration's later refusal to implement the decision of the Council the elected Local Advisory Board (the Local Station Board established by the new by-laws had not yet been formed) voted to recognize the propriety of the decision. At a two-day retreat the members of the Program Council - meeting with then GM Newport - unanimously reaffirmed its democratic composition (that is the inclusion of LAB, unpaid staff and listener members) and its legitimacy as the station's programming decision-maker. Gus Newport publicly recognized the legality of the vote also but he resigned before the change was implemented.
But the change was blocked. Immediately upon rebecoming interim GM Jim Bennett, who had chaired almost all of the meetings during which the topic of moving Democracy Now! was kept from reaching the table, announced that he would refuse to implement the change. After the new Local Station Board was elected under Pacifica's new by-laws it too voted to recognize the right of the Program Council to make such a change and instructed Jim to respect the legitimate decision of the Program Council. The board required that the change take place within four months. The end of that four months is only days away but it is clear that Jim intends to defy this board too.
Thoughtful readers will ask how anyone could expect to get away with such a global refusal to respect fundamental rights and responsibilities.
The crapstorm that is being loosed upon the station and its listeners, the fear mongering, the warnings about ignorant and hostile strangers seeking to micro-manage everything, the wholly fabricated story that the board wants to eliminate music programming, the demonstrably false charge that board members have left the station open to lawsuits, the sensationalized descriptions of normal discussion and questions from board members that turn legitimate and appropriate or even sometimes angry and frustrated statements and questions from the board into `egregious charges', `slurs', `character assassination', `potentially libelous accusations', `challenges', `attacks', `anti-worker assaults', and `threats' which `demean', `dismiss', `ridicule', `harass', and `accuse' (all of these taken from the letter referred to above) are well suited to cover this and other blatant refusals to play by the rules.
The strategy seems to be to create enough heat and raise a great enough din that staff and listeners alike can be stampeded into reacting in frustration and fear. The hope is that people will be persuaded to accept the suspension of democratic decision-making and return station governance to the `peaceful `status quo ante (before `outsiders' had a voice in KPFA's decision-making structure).
It can come as a surprise to no one that the refusal of the station's administration to respect the decision of the Program Council has caused a controversy that has spilled over into the Station Board. At this moment almost any consideration that comes before the board is measured in terms of opposing sides and weighed in the context of a `larger battle'.
The Local Station Board is required by Pacifica's new by-laws to supervise and evaluate the station manager and to approve a pool of candidates when a new manager must be hired. Gus Newport recently resigned as manager of KPFA and the LSB has created a committee to find and vet possible replacements. A nine person hiring committee made up of paid and unpaid staff and LSB members has been selected, the LSB members by a vote of the board and the non-LSB staff members by a vote among the staff.
A shameless effort to manipulate this process has been mobilized. Here's what happened.
A subcommittee of the board (the Personnel subcommittee) - one which was not democratically chosen and which was not given the mandate to recruit and vet a manager by the board or the by-laws - announced that it had changed the make-up of the hiring committee that the board had created. This committee announced that it had `removed' the chair of the Hiring Committee (who also is the elected chair of the LSB) from the Hiring Committee entirely. No one can maintain with a straight face that the subcommittee has the authority to do this.
The runaway subcommittee `notified' the chair of the Hiring Committee that they had excluded her from participation in the work of the committee. Inevitably this precipitated a clash within the Hiring Committee.
There was no possibility that such a move would not force the focus of the committee to change from the work of finding and vetting manager candidates to fighting a dysfunctional internal battle. As of this writing the urgent work of this legitimate, by-laws mandated committee has ground to a halt.
It's fair for listeners and station staffers to ask the following question: if democratization is so adamantly opposed by an element of station staff and if achieving it is going to result in such conflict, is opening up decision-making at the station really worth the cost in effort and hard feelings?
There are at least two reasons why the reforms embodied in Pacifica's new by-laws and the democratization of the station's programming decision-making must be allowed to work.
It is important to make certain that programming decisions support the mission of the station rather than the interests of the decision- makers. That necessity demands that KPFA depend, in large measure, on democratically chosen representatives from the station's listenership and the broader progressive community who have no personal interest in the outcome of programming decisions (beside the interest we all have in empowering, informing, and inspiring a progressive movement), to evaluate and ultimately shape our programming.
It may disappoint, but it should not surprise KPFA's supporters to learn that the station's staffers, people whose voices have become the voices of friends and who listeners may have even grown to think of as the very voices of progressive politics, can be as jealous of their perks and privileges as people in other political and social arenas. But human beings are human beings and we simply must protect our progressive institutions by creating and fighting to defend rules and practices that require that policy and programming decisions be made by people who are disinterested and accountable.
Those of us who produce KPFA's programs and whose power, pride, and perks, may hang on such decisions will have important and useful perspective and information to contribute to such discussions. You can be sure that we will express strong opinions. But KPFA's airtime is a commons to be used in the common interest not a commodity to be possessed forever or to be divided up among the loudest, strongest, most deeply entrenched, or first in line. And for that reason disinterested discussions and disinterested conclusions are what's needed and those will most reliably come from disinterested decision- makers.
After long years of insular practice KPFA's program decision-making has grown to be too responsive to the give and take of the station's internal carrot and stick economy and too unaccountable to the needs of the listeners, the demands of the times, or the requirements of Pacifica's mission. The Democracy Now! question is one example; we run our most effective audience magnet before most people wake up and after many people who work from 9-5 can listen. Even having a decent discussion about changing that proved impossible because at KPFA the demands of turf and power take precedence over the needs of the listeners or the station or its mission.
Here's another example of how the absence of listener input distorts the station's structure and programming and inhibits our effectiveness. Consider this question: why doesn't KPFA have a Public Affairs Department? We have a Music Department, and a News Department, and a Drama and Literature Department. It's possible to imagine a Public Affairs Department that has a staff that is comparable in size to the staff of one of our larger daily programs; let's call it three or four full-time positions divided up among one or two full-time and several part-time paid staffers. The PA Department staffers would not be on-air people but people who had roots and connections in a wide variety of political movements and Bay Area communities. Their job would be to help people from those communities and movements produce many forms of programming: segments for magazine programs, short term series, thematic day long programming, and hard-hitting investigative documentaries.
A PA Department like that could be wonderful for the political ecology of the station. It could bring activists into the station - not just to be interviewed but to become part of KPFA's life and process. But as things stand now it will never happen. The old decision-making structure, controlled, as it was and is, exclusively from within the power elite of the station has not and will not create a Public Affairs Department like that. Starting one would upset the apple cart; actually many apple carts. Only by incorporating listeners, people who are not hoping to get or keep their own program, into governance and programming decision-making can the station get beyond petty turf protection that has (this is truly incredible) left KPFA without a Public Affairs department for years.
Here's the other reason that we can't let democratization be rolled back. The old board's effort to remake Pacifica, to fire the audience and use the stations to build a new, more mainstreamed radio empire, or to sell one of the stations and fund heaven knows what grandiose scheme did not suddenly appear in the Spring of 1999. It first took root in changes in station decision-making which disenfranchised KPFA's listeners and unpaid staff and made local decision-making subject to national oversight. KPFA's staff should have, but failed to, whole-heartedly resist efforts to disempower listeners and unpaid staff. Only when the usurpers thought that the community had accepted their powerlessness did they feel strong enough to try to hijack the network altogether. That's why the attempts to discredit and disempower the LSB are short-sighted and dangerous.
An effective, empowered, and locally elected LSB is all that the by- laws provide to protect the stations from another take-over from Pacifica Central. The lesson that we were forced to learn at immense cost is that an empowered listenership is the most reliable guarantor of the station's and the network's progressive mission. A staff and listenership which will accept a disempowered LSB has, practically speaking, accepted that legitimate power ultimately resides in Pacifica Central. We should not step onto that slippery slope again.
The station is at a crossroads. Finding KPFA's way safely forward will require the vision and the courage to risk taking a democratic path. The democratic decisions of the Program Council, the necessary work of the Manager Search Committee, and the legitimate authority of KPFA's long fought for elected Station Board ought to be respected. If they are not respected they will have to be fought for. The alternative is rule by an oligarchy with turf protection, personal privilege, and spin control, occupying the place where co-operation, open discussion, and mission driven decision-making, should be. The end result of taking that path will not be good for KPFA or its listeners and especially not for its mission.
Yours very truly,
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