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March 2001

KPFA May Be Snuffed Out By Pacifica Corp.

By Karen Nakamura

One more voice in the struggle to maintain freedom of the press is being smothered by a corporate America determined to stifle its opposition.

Listener-sponsored radio stations, KPFA-fm, Berkeley and WBAI-fm, New York City, are in grave danger of being dismantled by a clique that has taken over the Board of Directors of their parent corporation, the Pacifica Foundation. This clique has shown every indication it plans on selling either one or both stations over the objects of local advisory boards, listeners, sponsors and staff.

According to Pacifica, the current listenership is too small and programming needs to be broadened to appeal to a greater audience. The way it accomplished this at its Houston station was to cut local programming, substitute country and western music for in-depth reporting and get satellite feeds from the parent corporation located in Washington, DC However, the executive committee is also maneuvering to get authority to sell the FoundationŐs assets, i.e., its radio stations. The methods used so far have been cleverly disguised behind legal smoke and mirrors and appear to violate fair business practices.

To achieve this corporate raid, the executive committee has threatened to change protective by-laws that keep the network free from corporate control and places, at least, its spiritual ownership in the hands of listener sponsors.

WBAI-fm, with its nationally acclaimed Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman, was put under a state of "martial law" in whatŐs known as the "Christmas Coup" perpetrated a few days before Christmas, 2000. In the middle of the night, the Pacifica executive committee raided the station. Locks were changed and personnel fired without warning.

This paper spoke with Matt Martin, KPFAŐs programming coordinator and asked him how this could come about. While temporarily failing to gain control of KPFA, the Pacifica board has done three things. "Mainly, it learned from its mistakes at KPFA." Martin said.

Before February, 1999, a certain number of board members were nominated and elected by local advisory boards in each of the five signal areas such as New York City. y, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The executive committee changed that in February of 1999 and declared it would nominate all board members. No new members would come from local boards. Secondly, it began packing meetings with members it appointed. It also began a campaign to change the by-laws so major decisions could be made by three members of the executive committee rather than the standard five.

While some say there are 17 members on the Board of Directors, others say 18. Matt Martin says this discrepancy is because the Board is constantly changing the number of members without notification. There is also no communication until the last possible moment about the agenda of the Board of Director meetings. This especially relates to an all-important meeting set to take place March 2-4 in Houston. No one, except possibly the executive committee, has any idea whether the by-law changes will be voted on or not. At this point, 11 board members are for changing the by-laws. Six members, mostly holdovers from local representation, are against.

But Pacifica listeners are not without help. California State Assemblywoman Dion Aroner, (D-Berkeley), has written a letter of complaint to PacificaŐs board that is signed by 16 state legislators, among them, Senate President John Burton (D-San Francisco).

In November 2000, 12 listener/sponsors filed a suit with California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who oversees non-profit organizations, to grant listeners legal standing at the Foundation. Legal papers and by-laws are still registered in the State of California despite moving PacificaŐs headquarters to Washington from Berkeley. Five local advisory boards have also filed a lawsuit, as have some members of the National board. These suits claim illegal exclusion from decision-making processes among other violations by the committee. In late December 2000, Pacifica filed its own suit against the local boards.

KPFA fought off a similar attack in 1999 by the board, which tried to take over the station and fire its station manager, Nicole Sawaya, staff reporters Larry Bensky, Dennis Bernstein and other outspoken staff. When KPFAŐs lockout came, Bernstein was dragged from his chair while still on the air. Only the determined resistance of its listeners kept the deal from going through and restored the broadcasters.

The Executive CommitteeŐs game plan appears to be to fire those who advocate in-depth reporting on subjects the committee, and its cohorts in the business world, would just as soon be kept silent. Dennis Bernstein, for instance, has allowed Palestinians to speak for themselves. Larry Bensky is well known for offering sometimes the only gavel to gavel coverage of important governmental hearings other than C-SPAN. Amy Goodman has embarrassed the military with her coverage of Central and South America and the notorious School of the Americas.

Because of their powerful broadcasting bands, which reach far beyond the normal range of most stations, KPFA and WBAI have long been greedily slobbered over by the marketplace. Profits from the sale of these two stations could surpass the $100 million mark. Proposed changes in the FoundationŐs by-laws would also allow committee members to extract profitable fees for services they might perform in any sale.

This curtailing of liberal outlets dovetails into the White House coup, the conservative strangle-hold on Congress, the World Trade OrganizationŐs use of police to suppress dissent, efforts to destroy unions and the disenfranchisement of voters. For more information, log on to www.savepacifica.net. Hurry, even that web site is threatened with closure.

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