L.A. Times and Newsday articles on Pacifica
[Is that a threat Murdock?]
Copyright 2002 Newsday, Inc.
WBAI's Former Dissidents Are Back in Control
THE DISSIDENTS at WBAI/99.5 FM and its owner, the Pacifica Foundation, have won a huge victory in their struggle against a board they feared was turning a "progressive," left-leaning radio network into a liberal outpost of the Democratic Party.
Nearly all the programmers and announcers forced from the station since a "Christmas coup" in December 2000 have been restored, most of their outspoken foes have been fired, and the top-rated show "Democracy Now!" is back on the air, according to new (previously fired) program director Bernard White. The national board has been almost completely re-instituted, with dissidents now in the majority, and steps are being taken to create a new, more "democratized" network (Pacifica's other stations are in Washington, D.C., Houston, Los Angeles and Berkeley, Calif.). "This is an exciting time for Pacifica," interim executive director Dan Caughlin said yesterday from the WBAI studios in lower Manhattan. "It's also a period of huge financial difficulties, with more than $3 million in debt. Our first challenge is to stabilize the finances and then to move forward the process of reform to a democratically accountable Pacifica."
The dissidents blame the former administration for much of that debt, spent on lawyers and public relations in its fight against the protestors. Besides rallies and demonstrations, the dissidents' campaign involved hostile mailings, phone calls and e-mails against the former board, many of whom ultimately resigned under the pressure.
Former board member Robert Murdock said that when the old board agreed last month to a final settlement, "It didn't have to do with a debate or points of view, but the tactics of harassment." Prominent dissidents Juan Gonzalez and Amy Goodman "campaigned publicly at rallies, to get the foundation to spend itself to the point where it had to capitulate. If they bemoan their debts, they can thank themselves."
The situation at WBAI is almost completely back to where it had been before then-executive director Bessie Wash and then-general manager Utrice Leid changed everything over Christmas, 2000. Even Leid's predecessor, Valerie van Isler, has returned. The station has also hired a conflict-resolution adviser to help the staff get over the trauma of the last two years. White said he expects a fund-raiser, to begin Feb. 4, to break all records. On the other hand, Murdock, a lawyer, said that if there are too many changes to some stations, "I think there will be challenges to their licenses."
February 1, 2002
AROUND THE DIAL
By STEVE CARNEY, SPECIAL TO THE TIMES
WASHINGTON -- In their family brawl over control of the left-leaning Pacifica radio network, the combatants have finally crashed through the looking glass, landing in a parallel world that reverses everything they knew before.
A week ago at the Los Angeles outlet of the five-station network, KPFK-FM (90.7), general manager Mark Schubb was placed on administrative leave and told not to return. He's calling it payback, saying he's the victim of a purge, while the head of the local listeners' advisory board--a group constantly at odds with Schubb--says Schubb was "actively engaged in misleading the listeners" and refused to air certain programming. "They're clearly on a jihad to purge people not loyal to their faction," Schubb said. "As far as I'm concerned, I'm an employee in good standing."
But Local Advisory Board chairman David Adelson said Schubb lied to listeners about the causes of problems within the network and was disdainful of input from the public via the advisory board.
"I think there's an opening now for some real changes," Adelson said, because a network-wide gag order has been lifted and listeners can hear about the goings-on. Adelson was a plaintiff in one of three lawsuits against Pacifica, alleging that those running the network were squandering money and ignoring the needs of the listeners. Those suits were settled in December, in an agreement that re-formed the board of directors and put a dissident group in charge.
The management change at KPFK is just the latest chapter in the ongoing Pacifica saga. The tiny network, started by pacifists in Berkeley after World War II, has been rocked by turmoil for more than three years.
Members of a dissident group of listeners said they were trying to save Pacifica and return it to its original, progressive politics and programming. They charged that those running the Pacifica Foundation and its five radio stations--the executive director and the national board of directors--were conspiring to turn it more mainstream, discouraging criticism of their political allies.
The popular general manager of the Berkeley station was removed in 1999, causing street protests and unrest that shuttered the station for three weeks. At the end of 2000, the general manager at New York station WBAI was fired and the station locks were changed in what was dubbed the "Christmas coup."
Numerous other longtime employees and volunteers were sent packing at the five stations. And for the latter half of 2001, the network's signature program, the newsmagazine "Democracy Now!" with host Amy Goodman, was forced off the air in a personnel dispute.
"At all levels of Pacifica, we need leadership that needs to move past a history of conflict to a new period of healing and rebuilding," said Dan Coughlin, acting executive director of the Pacifica Foundation.
Coughlin and Pacifica board chairman Leslie Cagan tapped Steven Starr, a longtime member of the Los Angeles Independent Media Center, to be KPFK's interim general manager at the suggestion of the Local Advisory Board.
"He's known in a lot of media circles around Los Angeles," Adelson said, noting that Starr got his start in radio in college and since then has been involved in movies, television and Internet ventures. "He's got a long-standing commitment to democratic media, and he's got experience dealing with talent and egos."
The elements at KPFK are familiar--a station's general manager relieved of his duties, charges of cronyism, a Web site decrying the perceived injustices of the network's governing board and a call for a grass-roots protest involving phone calls, faxes and e-mails. But this time the ones doing the firing were the former dissidents, and those heading for the door are the people the protesters had charged were destroying the network.
The Houston general manager resigned and took a severance package before the newly formed board met in New York in January. At that meeting, the general manager of the New York station, WBAI, was fired and replaced by the general manager who had been fired in the "Christmas coup."
The Washington, D.C., station's general manager was relieved at the same time as Schubb. The management remained intact only at the Berkeley station, which doesn't heed directives from Pacifica headquarters in Washington.
One of the deepest wounds at the network is left over from the infighting between the previous bureaucracy and the dissidents: a $4-million debt the new Pacifica board found itself with, including outstanding bills for expensive lawyers, public relations agencies and security guards.
Schubb has said, even on the air, that Pacifica and KPFK wouldn't be in their current financial trouble if not for the dissidents' fight and lawsuits. Opponents countered that it was the previous board's intractability and unwillingness to negotiate with the dissidents that escalated the fight and ran up the bills.
"He's trying to connect the abuses of the previous board to this board," turn listeners against the new regime and persuade them that their donations have been ripped off, Adelson said. "It was not a matter of lawsuits; it was a matter of corruption."
Pacifica hired an accounting team to review the books, to determine where the money was spent and how many bills are still outstanding. That audit may be complete by today, Coughlin said.
"We are going to have to make some tough choices," he said. "We're going to have to make cuts and we're going to have to increase revenue."
Another complaint about Schubb was that he balked when the new board ordered him to return "Democracy Now!" to the air. A critic of Goodman, who is revered by many Pacifica listeners, Schubb reinstated the live 6 a.m. broadcast but not its 9 a.m. replay. He criticized what he called the board's unprecedented meddling in local programming.
But Adelson contends that previous boards have rejected local programming that they didn't like and said that's why Schubb was hired seven years ago.
Adelson said Schubb was part of a concerted push by Pacifica leaders to change programming at the stations so it would generate more donations.
The feeling was, Adelson said, that a bloc of similar shows aimed at "limousine liberals" who will pledge to the station was preferable to a lineup in which a reggae show followed a gay and lesbian affairs show that followed a blues show that followed a klezmer show.
Adelson contended that such a station would be more diverse and give a voice to voiceless constituencies. Starr returned "Democracy Now!" to its 9 a.m. slot earlier this week.
Meanwhile, KPFK has been transmitting at a quarter of its power for months, while a new transmitter sits in storage at the foot of Mt. Wilson, waiting to be hauled up the mountain and activated. The station raised about $800,000 in the last three years to replace aging equipment, but that money disappeared after KPFK sent it to Pacifica's financial office early in 2001.
Coughlin said the problems surrounding the KPFK transmitter should be resolved in a couple of months.
"We have the most successful fund drive in the history of our station, and we can't pay the bills," Schubb said, referring to the $533,000 the station raised in November. And, as a parting shot, he had a dire warning about the future of the network that both sides have fought so bitterly over for years.
"I'm very concerned about the financial future. I think they're facing bankruptcy," he said. "This is not a time to have amateurs learning how to play public radio. They are very likely to lose it all and be forced to sell a station to stay solvent."
But Adelson said he hopes that with the new openness within Pacifica and the promise that the listeners will have more input into the network that they already feel is their own, the organization can avoid the bitterness of previous disagreements that racked the stations.
"As soon as we talk to the listeners about what's been going on, I have a lot of hope," he said. "They're likely to be the greatest moderating force in a lot of the conflicts."
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