Hands off Frank: Open letter to the KPFA Local Station Board

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To the KPFA Local Station Board (LSB):

I am appalled by Brian Edwards-Tiekert and Mal Burnstein’s insults to KPFA Apprenticeship Co-Director and LSB staff representative Frank Sterling during the board’s last meeting.


Frank Sterling, right, on the air with the KPFA Apprentices’ “Full Circle” radio hour.

Frank is the heart and soul of KPFA at this moment in time. Not only because he is trying to lead the station, kicking and screaming, into the new Web-based media universe, but also because he donates so many hours to the Apprenticeship Program and engages with the KPFA community that is trying, against all odds, to stand up to perpetual war, climate catastrophe, and plutocracy’s fierce determination to own and control every last dollar and resource on the planet.

These “leave it all to the professional manager” and “the board is just there to fundraise” mantras are equally huge insults to KPFA’s listener community.

The LSB, which includes Frank, should be vocal about programming. Staff and listeners did not elect them to nod along and raise funds for some morally indifferent “professional” product. Passivity, disengagement, and a sense of helplessness are the most fundamental facts of American political life, and KPFA should not encourage them in its audience or in the board elected by listeners and staff.

I would like to propose a new standard for evaluating KPFA programming. Does it make any difference?  How often is there a different, better outcome than there otherwise might have been because of KPFA programming? The West Coast’s Block-the-Boat for Gaza action that finally caused the Israeli ZIM liners to abandon West Coast ports was one of the most successful pro-Palestinian actions in years, and it was an international story, reported by the Israeli and Palestinian press and by other outlets around the world.

The Oakland Port organizers of Block-the-Boat for Gaza said that their movement grew significantly because of KPFA’s engagement, including the livestream. People told organizers that they showed up at the Port because they heard about the action on KPFA. Every time the station mentioned it, their Twitter followers requesting action alerts took a leap upwards.

Protesters at the Port of Oakland on August 16th

Block-the-Boat-for-Gaza protestors, Port of Oakland, 08.16.2014

KPFA should be proud of having played a role in that, not embarrassed because of some pseudo-professional detachment. KPFA’s star book tour speakers – Glenn Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill, Chris Hedges – have eloquently dismissed this pseudo-professional detachment that, as Greenwald says, “neuters journalists.” KPFA should thank Frank Sterling for fighting so hard to make that livestream webcast from Block-the-Boat-for-Gaza happen. And it certainly should not be insulting Frank by accusing him of representing his self-interest to the board.

I could not respond to Brian’s insult as eloquently as Frank himself did, but I felt compelled to respond. Once again, Frank – and the apprentices he is so committed to teaching and nurturing – are the heart and soul of KPFA.

No Justice, No Peace,
Ann Garrison
Independent Journalist, KPFA and WBAI reporter

Further comment by John Parulis:

Franklin addressed Tiekert’s criticisms very thoroughly and to the point, while the speaker who followed Frank, missed the point. Franklin (and the volunteer live video team of which I am a part) has no intention of making program decisions. We try to make program “suggestions” based on what is widely perceived to be important newsworthy events. When the station manager or program director seem unable to answer our numerous emails requesting “link” support and review often weeks before the events, some mentioned by Frank, what are we to do but work through the channels given to us for a public voice like the LSB? The last speaker misses the point. Using the LSB for this purpose is not to program manage but to inform everybody of a breakdown in the system, a system that is supposed to intelligently and vigorously join the media revolution which is happening all around us at a rapid pace. In these types of discussions, I am constantly referring to Democracy Now as a program that got this concept. Honoring its roots as a radio program, the show has expanded to cable tv, live internet audio and video streaming, podcasting, and brilliant and timely social network integration. While we are not saying all Pacifica’s radio shows have to follow this model, we are saying that the wide spread use of different media tools is mandated by the facts of the internet and how it is used and accessed.