Pacificia struggle history review
From: Carol Spooner
Date: Mon Jan 21, 2002 5:52 am
Subject: A little history
[This is a long article -- so use your delete button if you're not interested -- but I think this article is required reading for all who want to understand the whos hows whys of what happened at Pacifica over the past decade -- so we can avoid repeating it as we rebuild & restructure over the coming months and years. --Carol Spooner]
"Principles or Principals: The Fight for Free Speech Radio"
This article first appeared in the Spring 2000 issue of Alternative Press Review and is reprinted here by permission.
"There are innumerable ways of wasting time and generating nonsense, and there are also uncounted ways of making money, many of which may be pursued in broad daylight. But the elaborate machinery and the peculiar intimacy of the radio medium have better and more basic uses. The theory I want to discuss rests on two particular assumptions: first, that radio can and should be used for significant communication and art; and second, that since broadcasting is an act of communication, it ought to be subject to the same aesthetic and ethical principles as we apply to any communicative act, including the most personal." -- Pacifica Founder Lewis Hill, from "The Theory of Listener-Sponsored Radio" 1951
"The primary signal would lend itself to a quiet marketing scenario of discreet presentation to logical and qualified buyers. This is the best radio market in history and while public companies may see a dilutive effect from a sale (due to the approximate 12 month repositioning effort needed), they would still be aggressive for such a signal. Private media companies would be the most aggressive in terms of price, which he [a radio broker] thinks could be in the $65-75m range depending on various aspects of a deal." -- Pacifica Foundation Director Micheal Palmer in a confidential memo to Pacifica Chair Mary F. Berry, on the possible sale of the nation's first listener sponsored radio station, KPFA-FM in Berkeley, July 12, 1999
In late 1994, a group of people inside Pacifica Radio's national directorate seized control of the institution. They announced that "vast changes" were to take place and warned others that those "who do not feel that they can assist Pacifica in its present mission are advised to resign. If there are indications that actions are being taken collectively or individually to countermand the policies, directives, and mandates of the Pacifica Board, the Board will take appropriate steps." The stated purpose of the changes was to build a "modern, relevant, effective radio network," that would "act as a leader for progressive social change."
A series of purges of both on-air and off-air personnel took place. There was opposition from the beginning inside the organization, but gag orders threatened broadcasters with removal if they discussed "dirty laundry." A climate of fear was created. The perpetrators of the coup assured important constituencies in the community that they were trying to strengthen Pacifica to fight off attacks from the Christian Right and to increase the audience for the progressive message. Many who should have known better suspended their disbelief. The Right had a lot of people scared.
Critics, who pointed out that the coup leaders' intent to transform Pacific into a to-down hierarchical organization run like a commercial broadcast network was at odds with progressive principles, were dismissed as "disgruntled former employees," elitists, racists or "stuck in the '60's" - whichever pejorative could most easily be applied. To consolidate their power, the coup leaders hired union busters to strip station workers of their ability to affect decision making about policy and finances. The amended the station by-laws to remove voting power and management oversight from community advisory boards at the five local stations, to make the board of directors self-selecting so no one could unseat them. The closed meetings and made policy and financial documents off limits to the public.
Because there were no structures that assured open and accountable governance of Pacifica by the community, Pacifica was vulnerable to this takeover from within.
Last February , in spite of community opposition which included notables such as Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman and Howard Zinn, the Pacifica Board made itself into a self-selecting body accountable only to, in the words of spokesperson Elan Fabbri, "the IRS, the CPB, the FCC." The CPB, the government's Corporation for Public Broadcasting, headed by Robert Coonrod, a former exec of US propaganda outlet Radio Marti, had played a direct role in applying pressure to vacillating Board members by sending letters at the request of Pacifica executive Director Pat Scott, and her successor Lynn Chadwick, that threatened the loss of funding if the by-laws were not changed.
Both Scott and Chadwick have been praised by Coonrod for their contributions to what many see as the neutering of Pacifica and the rest of community radio. Since the coup began in 1995 the federal government has come to the aid of the plotters more than once. In 1997, the CPB bras whitewashed their own investigator's report which concluded that the Pacifica Board had violated open meetings guidelines. More recently, the Department of Justice got involved by questioning the Berkeley police about its "soft" treatment of Berkeley KPFA demonstrators, at the request of Pacifica Chair Mary Frances Berry.
Pacifica Radio, which has over the course of its history been attacked by the House un-American Activities Committee, the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, the Federal Communications Commission, and as "hate radio" by the US Congress, now has a Chairperson who also chairs the US Civil Rights Commission and attends meetings flanked by government bodyguards. Pacifica's "New Mission"
For the past several years, critics have charged that Pacifica was moving towards the mainstream. Pacifica management vociferously denied this, while pursuing systematic censorship, as well as purges, to eliminate anti-government voices. They have rebuffed these criticisms by pointing to Amy Goodman's "Democracy Now!" program. The fact is that from the beginning, Goodman hand her crew were pressured by Pacifica Executive Director Pat Scott to go easy on government officials, especially Clinton. In 1997, WBAI New York program director Samori Marksman, who helped develop the program, reported to WBAI's advisory board that Scot had told him, "How dare we criticize Clinton." Anti-nuclear activist Dr. Helen Caldicott, who had a weekly program on WBAI during that same period said that Marksman told her that Pacifica would not distribute her program over its new KU satellite service unless she stopped her constant criticism of the US.
The blueprint for the transmogrification of Pacifica was laid out in a document called "A Vision for Pacifica Radio: Creating a Network for the 21st Century, Strategic 5 Year Plan" which was completed in early 1997 after more than a year of closed door sessions.
Pacifica was to become a "national force" by "impacting political discourse" in order to serve as an antidote to the fare provided by the broadcast media which was described as "a deception that distorts reality and undermines people's faith in government, their sense of community, and the notion of shared social responsibility."
But the broadcast media does not undermine "faith in government" though it does undermine community. Rather, it instills fear of one's fellow citizens and "demonstrates" that our civil liberties make us unsafe, and encourages us to trade them in for greater police powers. It does this by an endless portrayal of crime and conflict presented as inexplicable acts of evil instead of as a series of human responses to a set of circumstances. Faced with such apparently irrational evil, we feel powerless, in need of protection.
The coup leaders have strong government ties. Pacifica's present and former Chairpersons both are highly placed in the organization of the perpetual Democratic Presidential hopeful Jesse Jackson, and Berry, the current Chair, is a Federal appointee of Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Recently departed Board Secretary Roberta Brooks orchestrated the heist of Pacifica while serving on the staff of Democratic Congress member Ron Dellums. Pacifica is being remade as a propaganda tool. This was not its original mission. No doubt many believed the ends justified the means. This was a unilateral decision and a perversion of Pacifica's founding purposes. It was a theft of something that a great many people over the years had built with their love and labor for other purposes. Pacifica's anarchist-pacifist founders understood the State as the police force of elite power and privilege which protected and expanded access to resources through the mechanism of war. They meant to expose that relationship. They could only do so by standing outside the spheres of influence of government and corporate control.
Pacifica before the coup was beset by many internal problems that left it divided and conquerable. There was a lack of cooperation and community inside the stations which wasted precious energy on competition and turf wars. The problems endemic to the larger culture were brought into the stations and dealt with in a manner nor more enlightened than in the wider society. A greater variety of people and views, excluded from media elsewhere, were vying for Pacifica airspace. No process was in place that seemed fair and participatory for deciding who got what. Almost everyone at every level felt victimized and disempowered. A group bent on strengthening Pacifica would have attempted to solve these problems. Instead, the problems were cynically exploited.
In 1992, Pacifica's national management led by David Salniker, decided to transform Pacifica into a network along the lines of National Public Radio by seeking grants from corporate foundations like Pew and Ford to develop and expand the stream of marketable national programming. This was laid out in a document called "A Strategy for National Programming." Meanwhile, in the guise of "helping" public broadcasting improve "private sector" support, the CPB began funding and promoting an agenda of mainstreaming public media. Lynn Chadwick, Pacifica's current [until February 2000] Executive Director, was President of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters (NFCB). Under her leadership, the NFCB, with grants from CPB, was sponsoring a program called "The Healthy Station Project" which advocated the professionalization of community radio and the use of Arbitron ratings as a measure of a station's success.
Arbitron was developed by the commercial broadcasting industry as a means for establishing advertising rates. It gauged success by numbers of people listening, appropriate to the goals of selling ears to advertisers. By its standards the Howard Stern Show was "better" than an Isaac Stern recital because more people were listening to it.
Public radio consultants such as David Giovannoni of Audiographics told Pacifica managers that their goal of doubling their audience was realistic if they were willing to focus more on entertainment and content "geared toward a slightly more moderate audience."
Increasing the audience at Pacifica stations took on a new urgency with the inauguration of the Newt Gingrich Congress. Christian Fundamentalist Republicans were now in a position to realize their dreams of defunding "liberal" public broadcasting. CPB money provided 15 percent of Pacifica's funding. A compromise with Congress was reached. Pat Scott and Lynn Chadwick played a role. CPB grants would now be tied to "performance." This meant achieving a certain Arbitron rating which would force stations to mainstream their programming or collect a certain level of funding which would drive them toward corporate underwriting and upscale audiences.
The 1995 massive purges of programming took place at KPFT in Houston, KPFK in Los Angeles, and at KPFA in Berkeley. Most of the programs with an overtly radical perspective were removed, programs in languages other than English were removed, programs geared toward particular ethnic communities and the poor were targeted. May of these programs enjoyed strong community support. Dissident groups formed in Berkeley, Los Angeles, New York and Houston.
At KPFK, programmers have been told to gear their message to a more mainstream audience, and forbidden from encouraging listeners to attend anti-war demonstrations. Newscasters were ordered not to pronounce Spanish names with a Spanish accent and music programmers were told not to use expressions that would "alienate" an older audience.
In spite of the rhetoric from Pacifica management about "diversity" and a "reengagement" it seems that Pacifica was now after the cash of National Public Radio's middle-aged, middle-class, mostly white, listeners. They were aware that the changes were going to alienate many longtime listeners. They presumed that many would continue to support them anyway, having nowhere else to go. Those disaffected would be replaced by new listeners. KPFK manager Mark Schubb, speaking at a 1995 meeting of a listener group unhappy with the program changes, told the 50 people in attendance that they could be replaced with 5,000 new listeners by changing the programming.
Listener-sponsors had been told (and believed) that they were partners in the great endeavor that was Pacifica. the new "Pacifica, Inc." regarded them as consumers to be attracted, numbers to be tallied.
Even after the purges of several hundred people between 1995 and 1997, Pacifica failed to double its audience. it still hasn't, and Mary Frances Berry is now using the size of the audience as a reason to justify selling KPFA. Yet in 1996 and in 1998 Pacifica's board was touting its great success in audience expansion.
One thing that had risen by 1997 was Pacifica's income. Pacifica's annual budget went from $8 million to $10 million. More and more money was being taken by the national office from what donors gave to the local stations, supposedly to fund national programs. By the beginning of 1999 they were taking 17.25% and a hike up to 20% was planned.
those national programs never materialized. Instead money was spent on expanding national bureaucracy and an unknown number of consultants whose activities were unclear. In December 1998 Pacifica abruptly fired Larry Bensky, a veteran broadcaster at KPFA, claiming there was no money from the national program he was scheduled to begin. Where had all the money being pulled out of KPFA and the other Pacifica stations gone? This is what KPFA manager Nicole Sawaya asked when the was fired in March 1999. She told the Pacifica Board "No new taxes."
Two consecutive events -- the abrupt firing of Larry Bensky in December, and the change to a self-selecting Board in February, demolished what confidence remained in the management. Sawaya's firing was the last straw. In her last report to the KPFA Advisory Board on March 30, Sawaya reported she had received a number of letters from listeners who said they would no longer contribute because of the governance change and the treatment of Larry Bensky. "People equate Pacifica with KPFA and KPFA takes the blame." On-ramp to rebellion
On December 7, 1998 Larry Bensky was told he was fired. He described the sequence of events in a letter to supporters: "Last Monday, as I left the studio after anchoring the first day of Pacifica's 'Impeachment Watch,' I was handed a two sentence letter from Gail Christian, 'Director of Program Services,' informing me that I was terminated immediately as host of 'Living Room' and 'Impeachment Watch.' No reason was given for this sudden action." Bensky's firing threw KPFA staff into turmoil. Program Director Lawrence Shorter was shocked by Bensky's peremptory dismissal. He had promised to deal openly and honestly with staff and listeners and received no guidance form the National management as to what to tell the angry listeners. Every call-in show was deluged with questions about the firing.
Nicole Sawaya took a public stand in support of Bensky and allowed him to go on the air to address the community. Bensky had made clear that he had the full support of KPFA management, and that his dispute was with Pacifica's top management. The community responded to his call for support and Bensky was reinstated two weeks later.
Bensky's firing had jeopardized the careful work that Sawaya had been doing to rebuild the station's community and internal relations. In a letter sent 2/23/99 to the Pacifica Board of Directors, the KPFA staff expressed a vote of no confidence in Pacifica management: "We are growing increasingly concerned that the management of Pacifica is being conducted in a manner that is contradictory to its mission. One year ago, when Nicole Sawaya was hired as KPFA Station Manager, she assumed leadership of a staff that had been demoralized by acrimonious union negotiations, hostility from some listeners opposed to program changes, and fund drives that had fallen short of their goals. Under Nicole's direction, the station has started to flourish again."
Lynn Chadwick had been Executive Director of Pacifica for only two months. Her predecessor, Pat Scott, knew who should stomp on and who had clout. But Scott had lost control of her own takeover and been forced out, according to insiders.
Mary Frances Berry had been recruited in 1997 as a replacement by retiring Chair Jack O'Dell and Scott. Berry had the right connections and a glamorous resume. Berry admits she had originally declined O'Dell's invitation as she was already very busy, but she was "hooked" by the strategic plan. Berry understood the power of a radio network.
O'Dell had taken a hands off role as Board Chair and let Scott run the show. Berry had her own ideas. Scott's style had alienated even her allies and made her an easy target for a growing legion of critics. The Board backed Berry and got rid of Scott.
To rid itself of the radicals, the plotters turned increasingly rightward for allies. Pacifica's Board is now populated by power brokers for whom KPFA was just part of a cornucopia of deployable assets.
A quiet campaign was waged in her support, to no avail. On March 31, 1999, KPFA news reported that Sawaya had been fired, that they had been ordered not to report it, and that they were defying the "gag rule" and reporting it anyway.
KPFA supporters had consistently been told two things: KPFA was their station and KPFA was free speech radio. A gag rule? It was immediately obvious to many that the purpose of the rule was to keep them in ignorance. They were hurt and angry. A week after Sawaya's ouster, Bensky raised the issues on his Sunday call-in program. He was fired again. April 15, 1999, was Pacifica's 50th birthday. Instead of the celebration originally planned, 1,000 people demonstrated in the street in front of the station. The story was front page news in the Bay Area dailies and carried round the world on the wire. But not on Pacifica stations in Los Angeles, Washington and Houston, where FAIR's Counterspin and Pacifica's own news were censored to remove any mention of the rebellion. Pacifica was trying to keep the lid on by insisting the matter was a "labor dispute" and attempting to prevent the hypocrisy from being exposed to listeners in other Pacifica cities.
Chadwick issued a memo telling KPFA staff that further violations of the gag rule would lead to disciplinary action. Longtime music show host Robbie Osman denounced the legitimacy of the gag rule on the air and was removed on June 20th. The station broadcast dead air during his usual 2-hour Sunday morning program. In the ensuing protest, 14 were arrested. Berkeley police had refused to arrest the peaceful demonstrators until Chadwick made a citizen's arrest. Andrea Buffa of Media Alliance, a press advocacy group, was one of those arrested. She told the press, Chadwick was "desperately, and aggressively, trying to make KPFA's loyal staff and supporters go away. But it's not going to work: we have kept this station alive for 50 years. We won't stand by and watch it be taken from the diverse community that supports it -- financially, politically and creatively."
Setting a New Standard for Censorship
The next day Pacifica locked the doors of KPFA, while community members set up a tent city in the street in front of the station. Programming piped in from elsewhere was broadcast from KPFA's transmitter, which had been rerouted for that purpose, even as Berry made statements to the press that this would not occur. Staff were locked out of KPFA's studios until July 30. Bernstein's program just preceding the evening news on July 13th had included a press conference given by the 14 demonstrators who had been arrested the previous month. The press conference featured a bombshell: a misdirected e-mail from Pacifica Board member Micheal Palmer intended for the Chairwoman. The memo asked about the progress of plans to "shutdown and reprogram" KPFA and provided an analysis of marketing scenarios for KPFA's and WBAI's signals.
Pacifica's spokes person admitted that the memo was Palmer's. Andrea Buffa of Media Alliance, who had received it the night before, had already traced the route of the message to Palmer's computer. Pacifica's explanation was that Palmer was speaking for himself only and the Board had no plans to sell KPFA.
But Pete Bramson, a Board member from the Bay Area, called a press conference two weeks later. He confirmed that serious discussions about the sale of KPFA were taking place. "Pacifica Board Chair Mary Frances Berry has repeatedly said during these past several weeks that she has no intention of selling KPFA. That's not true," he said.
Evidence has emerged that the lockout was planned more than a month in advance. According to the East Bay Express, "it was early June when Pacifica officials began importing managers from other stations, consultants from other companies that handle labor problems, and archived tapes of lectures and music which could be played incase of a lockout. On June 7, Chadwick brought 'human resource consultant' Gene Edwards to the station, ostensibly to review personnel files. According to his associates, Edwards has a long history of advising companies in the process of terminating employees en masse; for several years in the mid-'90, Edwards developed 'employee transition' programs for the consulting firm Lee Hecht Harrison, a subsidiary of the giant temporary employment agency Adecco. Lee Hecht Harrison specializes in downsizing firms and coordinating mass layoffs." Edwards was also responsible for the hiring of armed security guards from IPSA, a security and investigation firm whose staff includes former US government intelligence agents, experts in hostile terminations, and sharpshooters. $380,000 was spent on the IPSA guards alone, according to documents obtained by an audit committee of the California Legislature which is looking into whether expenses for the lockout violate Pacifica's non-profit status. More than half a million dollars has been spent on the assault on KPFA and its community.
Meanwhile, a campaign of censorship continues at other Pacifica stations to keep listeners in ignorance. Recently, award-winning journalist Robin Urevich joined the ranks of more than a dozen people who have been banned from KPFK [Los Angeles] for criticizing management's policies. Urevich's offense was writing an article for a local paper which detailed censorship of KPFK program content about the KPFA rebellion.
Of KPFK, she wrote: "Questioning of authority inside the station is taboo. The station has paid a price for stifling dissent ... It's proven next to impossible to encourage news and public affairs staff to question authority outside the station while suppressing disagreement inside."
Testifying before the California Legislative Audit Committee, Pacifica Historian Matthew Lasar said, "Of late we have heard Pacifica's representatives claim that Pacifica radio needs to more effectively get out its message. Last night I got a telephone call from a good friend. Her name is Alice Hamberg; she knew Lewis Hill; she was one of the first KPFA subscribers and she still supports the station to this day. 'Matthew,' she told me, 'what Pacifica doesn't realize is that your message isn't just what you say, it's what you do.'" The fight for free speech radio continues.
Recent Update 
On the night of January 5, 2000, a moving van pulled up quietly in front of Pacifica's Berkeley headquarters and moved its contents to Washington, DC. A Pacifica press release issued after the fact explained, "The move allows the national staff easier access to agencies and public interest organizations headquartered in the nation's capital" and claimed the Board had planned the move months earlier. Alice Can, a listener activist, expressed the general feeling: "I'm dismayed at this move. I believe that they're doing it to avoid the activism in Northern California."
Last October, 16 of Pacifica's 60-plus affiliate stations called a one-day boycott of the Pacifica Network News (PNN) to protest Pacifica actions. In a press released they acknowledged the broader implications of the struggle: "The Pacifica debacle is the single best example of the cancer that has been eating at noncommercial media for more than a decade, disempowering communities in the name of professionalization, commercializing the airwaves in the guise of development, centralizing authority in the name of efficiency, and promoting high protection values at the expense of local color."
PNN News Director Dan Coughlin chose to test the limits of PNN's independence by airing a 30 second report on the boycott. He was immediately lambasted by management's stalwart Marc Cooper, who does a daily program on the Los Angeles station, KPFK. Cooper shot off an angry e-mail to Coughlin which was also circulated to Pacifica management, "It's ball-busting work to get on an raise 5-10K per hour as I can do in the afternoon. But what's the point in having that work thwarted by questionable news stories that run on PNN?" Cooper wrote. Coughlin defended his choice: "Pacifica Radio earned its reputation by tackling controversial and sensitive issues honestly and courageously, not by suppressing and covering them up ... I have received more than one thousand phone calls and e-mails urging PNN to cover the KPFA crisis more." Three days later Coughlin was "reassigned" to head a non-existent task force. PNN reporter Mark Bevis was given Coughlin's job. PNN news anchor Verna Avery-Brown went out on sick leave in protest, and resigned several weeks later. Avery-Brown cited censorship and a turn away from progressive reporting by her PNN colleagues, "I left because I no longer felt the renegade spirit of Lew Hill was in control of Pacifica ... I left because the Pacifica I had fallen in love with no longer existed. I refused to lend my name, my voice, my energies to a farce."
In November, affiliate WORT-FM of Madison, Wisconsin, began a rent strike against Pacifica. KCSB-FM in Santa Barbara, CA, has dropped PNN altogether and other stations are considering similar moves. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting's syndicated program "Counterspin" aired a segment on the Coughlin reassignment and was dropped from WPFW, the Pacifica Washington DC station, after having been censored on four previous occasions by WPFW and KPFK. On January 31, more than 40 outraged Pacifica freelance reporters began a three-month strike against PNN. "Pacifica has a cancer of censorship growing within that we intend to purge," said strike organizer Eileen Sutton. Pledges to support the action by denying interviews to PNN flooded in from dozens of prominent activists, labor organizations and more than a hundred progressive academics.
The strikers are producing a weekly newscast, Free Speech Radio News, now airing on 19 community radio stations. KPFA is running a disclaimer on censorship before the PNN daily broadcasts. Moves by the community to remove the program altogether were met with threats of firing against KPFA staff. The remaining PNN staff is attempting to discredit both the strikers and Coughlin.
At Pacifica's Board of Director's meeting on February 26 in Washington, Marry Frances Berry announced her resignation as Chair. Lynn Chadwick's resignation was also announced. succeeding Berry is Vice-Chair David Acosta, a CPA from Houston who has been part of the coup from the beginning. Ken Ford, a construction industry lobbyist from Washington, DC, will become the Vice-Chair, and real estate broker Micheal Palmer has been made Treasurer. All three support the sale of either KPFA or WBAI. Bessie Wash, manager of WPFW responsible for censoring attempts to cover Pacifica issues on WPFW, has taken over as Executive Director. New board members were added as well including entrepreneur, Bertam Lee, who has expertise in buying and selling radio stations, and John Murdock, an attorney who represents HMO's against patients and works for Epstein, Becker and Greene, a law firm that specializes in health care and labor law and helps management maintain a "union-free" workplace.
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