From the Pacifica Listener's Union
Democratizing Pacifica: How Much is Enough?
by Heidi Chesney, Jonathan Markowitz & Rafael Renteria
Virtually everyone involved in the effort to liberate Pacifica agrees that we must have democratic process in the administration of Pacifica and the stations, but there's been very little discussion in open forums about 'how much democracy' is necessary in a restructured Pacifica.
Some people feel queasy about putting direct power in the hands of listener sponsors. In this they are in accord with the founders of Pacifica who left all decisions over the direction of the network in the hands of the boards.
But in the last six years we've seen where leaving unchecked power in the hands of the Pacifica National Board (PNB) can lead.
Not everyone views this question through the same lens, however. Many listeners feel their contributions should make them voting members of the Pacifica Foundation. Others may have concerns about putting their jobs in listener's hands, and some may even be reluctant to share the power the current structure gives them. Their concerns are understandable, but if Pacifica is to avoid repeating the crisis of the last year, the question of democratization has to be viewed from the perspective of the needs of the whole network and from the angle of listener empowerment.
One important part of this process is currently underway in Berkeley. The democratization of KPFA's Local Advisory Board (LAB) is being hammered out by representatives of the Coalition for a democratic Pacifica, North Bay for KPFA, Friends of Free Speech Radio, a section of the KPFA staff and a few LAB members. However, only a small percentage of KPFA listeners (and even fewer Pacifica listeners outside the Bay Area) seem to be aware of this effort.
In order to build momentum for democratization, it's urgent that a much larger number of KPFA listeners participate in formulating and ratifying the proposed new structure for the KPFA LAB.
Listeners should demand of the KPFA LAB that they become an integral part of this process, and the KPFA staff should hold on-air discussions and broadcast town-hall style meetings to facilitate the discussion of the main questions being confronted. Expanding the number of listeners directly involved in this process is critical because the question of democratization is not just a local question. The drive to democratize the KPFA LAB affects the initiative toward listener-based democracy in the whole Pacifica network.
Some listeners, including the Pacifica Listener's Union (PLU), feel that the primary issue to be addressed is the democratization of the PNB, that any local efforts should contribute directly to removing the PNB and that the process should be structured in such a way as to fit in with a plan for the overall democratization of the network. In this respect, it's critical that the movement to liberate Pacifica facilitate an inclusive and comprehensive reexamination of all aspects of Pacifica's bylaws, not just the issue of how LAB members are selected.
Instead of promoting direct listener elections of the PNB and a public review of how to reformulate Pacifica's governance structure, some key individuals and groups have invested heavily in the belief it's possible to "stack" the national board in favor of the movement. This is clearly an unlikely outcome given the PNB's self-selecting nomination and confirmation procedures.
Additionally, some have sought to interject "blue ribbon committees" or groups like FAIR to select members of an interim transitional Pacifica National Board - without democratic listener input. Is it wise for the movement to hand the reins over to FAIR or any surrogate group to select an interim PNB, without first having the opportunity to review, submit revisions and most importantly veto or ratify any governance structure that such an appointed PNB may propose?
In closing, as important as the institution of elected LAB's is for KPFA and the movement in general, it's only one of many aspects of Pacifica's bylaws that need to be addressed. The independence of Pacifica overall must be protected by a governance structure that contains a modicum of 'checks and balances' held by the listeners, not one solely dependent on the character or political sensibilities of its board members, management or staff. This means a much broader effort toward listener empowerment at every level of the network is called for.
17 Provisions for a Democratically Structured Pacifica
We propose that the following 17 provisions, if incorporated and ratified into new bylaws for Pacifica, would help create and facilitate more of a 'balance of power' in which Pacifica listener-sponsors (and other qualified voting members), not only have opportunity for redress, through voting power to remove Station Board members, General Managers, PNB members and Pacifica Executive Directors, but also retain power to veto pending changes to Pacifica's bylaws.
(Note: The consideration of the constitution of LAB's and the PNB in terms of race and gender is not presented here but could easily be superimposed on the following structure without minimizing its democratic attributes.)
1. Station Boards would consist of twenty-one (21) seats comprised of two categories. (Note: It is recommended that Station Boards be so named in that they would not be solely advisory, as is the case currently with the LAB's.)
2. Fifteen (15) "listener-elected" Station Board seats would be filled by members elected by listeners who are qualified to vote (current and former listener-sponsors, volunteers, and low-income listeners).
3. The remaining six (6) Station Board seats would be "staff-elected".
4. Initially, Station Boards would be fully constituted in the first election with the first 1/3 of the highest vote getters elected to a three year term, the next 1/3 of the highest vote getters elected to a two year term and the last 1/3 of the highest vote getters elected to a one year term. One year after the board's initial election, 1/3 of the Station Board seats would be up for reelection to a three-year term. This process would then repeat annually.
5. Station management would be required to provide a minimum of sixty (60) days prior notification to listeners, staff, and Station Board members of intended programming changes.
6. The fifteen listener-elected Station Board members would have the power to veto programming changes before they are enacted.
7. To avoid a clear conflict of interest, the six staff-elected Station Board members would not have the power to vote on any veto of programming changes.
8. The Station Board would have the sole power to hire or replace the station General Manager.
9. Listeners who are qualified to vote would have the power to call special referendums to remove Station Board members, General Managers, Pacifica National Board members, and Pacifica Executive Directors.
10. The Pacifica National Board (PNB) would have twenty-seven (27) seats.
11. Except for two at large members who could reside in any signal area, the PNB would be divided into five groups of five seats each. Members who reside in one of the five signal areas would fill each group.
12. Pacifica listeners who are qualified to vote would have the right to vote for all 27 PNB seats regardless of what signal area the voter lives in or what station the voter contributes funds to.
13. Initially, the PNB would be fully constituted in the first election with the first 1/3 of the highest vote getters elected to a three year term, the next 1/3 of the highest vote getters elected to a two year term and the last 1/3 of the highest vote getters elected to a one year term. One year after the board's initial election, 1/3 of the PNB seats would be up for reelection to a three-year term. This process would then repeat annually.
14. The PNB would be required to publish proposed changes to Pacifica's bylaws six months prior to the enactment of said changes.
15. Listeners who are qualified to vote would have the power to veto Pacifica bylaws changes proposed by the PNB before they are enacted.
16. Current or former politicians and/or appointed government officials, whether federal, state or local, would be barred from seats on Station Boards and/or the PNB, nor would they be allowed to hold a paid or unpaid staff position at Pacifica or the stations.
17. Officers of political parties would be barred from seats on Station Boards and/or the PNB nor would they be allowed to hold a paid or unpaid staff position at Pacifica or the stations.
Heidi Chesney is a musician and hosts the music program, "The Driven Bow", at KRCB in Santa Rosa, CA. Heidi has been a listener-sponsor of KPFA since 1974 (until the KPFA crisis in the spring of '99) and is a member of North Bay for KPFA and the Policy Committee of the Pacifica Listeners Union. Email Heidi at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jonathan Markowitz is a co-author of the Pacifica Accountability Committee's "Proposed Bylaws for KPFK and Pacifica Stations". A founding member of the Pacifica Listeners Union, Jonathan fully supports the PLU's 15 Demands. Email Jonathan at: email@example.com
Rafael Renteria is a former program and news director of Pacifica station KPFT in Houston and Spokesperson for the Pacifica Listener's Union. Email Rafael at: Renteria22@aol.com
The contents of this article solely represent the opinions and views of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Pacifica Listeners Union or of any other Pacifica listener organization.
For more information about the Pacifica Listeners Union call for a nationwide listener-sponsor boycott and election of an interim Pacifica National Board, contact:
Pacifica Listeners Union (PLU) phone: 323-960-7655 email: firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.pacificalistenersunion.org
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