by ANNA KUNKIN
Saturday, Jan. 12, 2002 at 9:58 PM
The first meeting of the KPFK Listener Advisory Board (LAB) since the 4 lawsuits against the Pacifica National Board were settled was held last Wednesday Jan 9, at the Peace Center in Los Angeles.
At least a hundred and fifty bodies pressed into the Peace Center on 3rd Street last Wednesday night Jan-9, for the first meeting of the KPFK Listener's Advisory Board (LAB) since the settlement of the 4 lawsuits against the Pacifica National Board.
The feeling was one of celebration since the settlement represents a huge victory for the long time activists and listeners who have fought for years to restore the participatory community model and the mission of the pacifist founder of the Pacifica Network, Lew Hill, against a self appointed Board with an agenda of it's own to streamline and "mainstream" the 5 station listener supported network.
The Board rewrote the Bylaws several years ago, giving themselves the authority to re-elect themselves, cutting the local LABs who represented the listeners, out of any decision making process. The Network accounting office and all of the monies gained from fund drives were taken from Southern California in 1995 as power was increasingly centralized in Washington D.C., leaving KPFK with no control over any financial decisions regarding the donations from it's listeners. The true battle started when Pacifica imposed a "gag" rule, prohibiting programmers to discuss the changes made by the Board on the air, stating that there were more important pressing issues to discuss on the air than the internal "dirty laundry" of the network. This was a red flag to programmers and listeners alike, who saw this as a direct contradiction to everything the radical free speech radio network stood for. Programmers broke the gag rule and heads flew.
Programmer after programmer was removed from the air, until the whole thing came to a head when a popular station manager at KPFA in Berkeley was fired in 1999 and tens of thousands of people took to the streets to fight for their radio station. The news director was pulled away from his microphone as he was reporting the news, the station was locked down and security guards were hired to keep the staff and the community away from their station.
A similar situation transpired at WBAI in New York last December, when the station was purged of many long-time voices. Many staff members coming to work after a long holiday weekend found the station locks changed while others had letters delivered to their homes informing them of their terminated status. Only Amy Goodman, host of the most radical news magazine on the air, Democracy Now, was so popular nation wide that the network was unable to fire her outright. She remained on the air, defying the status quo at every opportunity, until she finally was forced to flee. Stating that it was no longer safe for her to broadcast from the New York studios she set up production of her show in a fire station just blocks away. The network used the fact that she was no longer broadcasting from the station to remove her from their air.
Here in L.A., KPFK had already lost many of its community voices, as programming over the years under the direction of station manager Mark Schubb became steadily more streamlined and more demographically based.
Many refused to sit still for this, and four lawsuits were filed against Pacifica over the years, one of them by the chairman of the Los Angeles LAB, David Adelson. The lawsuits have long been supported by many tireless activists who have struggled hard to bring the network back to it's original mission of free speech, community activism, and the only voice of the left on the radio air.
Meanwhile, in the fight for their own agenda, the Pacifica Network has squandered millions of dollars on expensive lawyers and P/R firms; dollars donated by listeners in support of their radio stations. Nearing bankruptcy, the Network was finally brought to its knees and was forced to negotiate a settlement with the listeners. The settlement includes a rewriting of the Bylaws that control the operation of the network and a complete restructuring of the National Board. First on the agenda was a memo directing all stations to air Democracy Now in its prior time slots, which in Los Angeles were twice daily at 6 and 9am.
Here in L.A., station manager, Mark Schubb and reporter Marc Cooper, long supporters of the Board's agenda are not going down without a fight. The two of them got on the air as a team to give their version of the current situation, stating that the Pacifica Board has taken all of the station's money; money donated in fund drives by the listeners, money needed to install a new expensive transmitter, and has spent it without any accounting to KPFK. They went on to ask for support from the listeners to rally against this atrocious behavior, asking them to demand for an immediate accounting and for the return of the money to Los Angeles and to local control. Furthermore, they said that the Board, for the first time in the history of the network, has taken control of programming decisions. The day after this show, an announcement stating these "facts" was played hourly.
This is no less than an out-of-control manipulative spin to make listeners believe that the new Interim Board is responsible for the downfall of the network. The truth of the matter is that if anything, management has been guilty of misrepresentation; since the finances were taken out of it's control by the old Board, the very same Board that Schubb works for, in 1995, and the station has continued to hold fund drives soliciting donations without disclosing this to it's listeners. As to the charge of editorial control being taken over by the new Interim Board, the only programming directive made has been to require the reinstatement of Democracy Now.
Marc Cooper, asked listeners of his show on Wednesday to go that evening to the 1st scheduled LAB meeting since the settlement and demand justice of the new Board, saying that he wanted to make sure there would be a dissenting voice in the mix and not just the typical dissenters. How surprised he would have been to see what actually happened
The meeting started right on time and proceeded in a very orderly and professional manner. Chairman David Adelson took control right away, stating clearly that everyone was aware that there were many different emotions in the mix and many questions to be answered. All questions would be answered in the course of the meeting, and he was hopeful that everyone would be satisfied. And yes, there were many questions, and many answers: first if not foremost was the matter of the money, and it was clear that many were surprised to discover the true situation. Any mood of hostility seemed to disappear from the room when people realized that they were being misled by what they had heard on the radio into believing that they were being ripped off by the people who were in fact working in their interest. Everyone was glad to hear that a finance team is in the process of doing a complete financial audit to find out exactly where all the money has gone, and how much exactly is owed and to whom. In answer to the question of whether or not to begin making immediate donations to the station, Adelson said, "I think what we need is to be able to clarify, because the real answer is it's unclear at the moment, so that listeners can make that decision based on their own beliefs about what's going on. So we need to get that clear information as soon as possible including what's the present situation, what commitments we have, and what the present status of the finances are, 'cause anything else we tell you is misrepresentation."
As far as the restructuring of the Network goes, put in real simple terms, there are local listeners groups forming around the city to analyze and determine how LAB elections will be handled based on the election format devised by KPFA after the Berkeley "revolution" in 1999. People are being encouraged to join these groups and take part in this process. Once this is determined within a few months, elections will be held to determine new LAB or Local Advisory Board members. Of these local Board Members, one from each of the five station cities will be chosen to be part of the Pacifica National Board. There will be an Executive Director hired to answer to this Board, who will in turn hold sway over the local station management. In this way, Pacifica will once again be answerable to the communities it serves.
The meeting ended on a very positive note. Adelson said, "I just want to say there is a sentiment in the room that feels so good after so many years and it's of the possibility of change and some real opening and creativity. But it's not a done deal; everybody in the room has got to figure out what work they can do; because, you know, it can't just be on a few people who are appointed and given power. You've got to figure out some way to continue to make a difference. This is going to take all-hands-on deck because the history of this world is that valuable resources get alienated by powerful entities and delivered to markets; okay? And this has got to work in a different way. This is going to take people's ongoing consciousness and work."
A National Board meeting has been called in New York for this weekend, Jan. 11-13, and issues like the complete removal of the gag rule, complete reinstatement of Democracy Now (Los Angeles has only returned it to one of it's two daily slots and New York still refuses to return it to the air), the finances and other issues will be dealt with.
The Los Angeles LAB is holding it's next meeting Saturday January 19th from 1 to 2:45 pm at Loyola Law School, after which there will be the first in a series of community meetings to discuss elections, etc. Everyone is invited to attend.