Perspectives on the Crisis at KPFA and Pacifica Radio Network

By Peter Phillips and Mickey Huff,

Peter Philips (L) & Mickey Huff

Peter Philips (L) & Mickey Huff

The Pacifica Foundation is a 65-year old national progressive treasure in need of continuing attention and support. Pacifica’s flagship station KPFA in Berkeley, and four other stations KPFK-Los Angeles, KPFT-Houston, WBAI-New York, WPFW-Washington, D.C., are all owned by and under legal control of Pacifica Foundation Radio. Over 160-affiliate radio stations in the US and Canada carry various programs from the Pacifica Radio network.

The Pacifica Foundation is managed by an elected board of directors, which is comprised of twenty-two members. There are four members from each of the five principle stations plus two from affiliate stations. Meetings of Pacifica Foundation Radio’s Board of Directors are open to the public. Policy dictates that board meetings are to be posted at least one week in advance of the scheduled date and announced on-air at the five Pacifica stations.

The current board of directors of Pacifica is seriously divided into two contentious factions. The factions at KPFA are Support KPFA—United for Community Radio; and Save KPFA (formerly “Concerned Listeners”). Each faction has allies and/or representatives on the board from the collective stations with the Save KPFA faction recently obtaining a one-vote majority. It was this slim majority that lead to the late-night firing of Pacifica’s recently appointed Executive Director, Summer Reese, on March 13, in a telephone conference board meeting with an unannounced agenda. Summer Reese later occupied the Pacifica Foundation headquarters claiming the firing was in violation of her contract and the Bylaws of Pacifica.

Reese has been in control of the building with dozens of supporters for over a month. Lawsuits and countersuits have been filed and court battles are pending. Over 400 KPFA listeners, volunteers, and staff have signed a petition in support of due process for Summer Reese, including the two authors of this update.

Longtime KPFA supporter and Sonoma County attorney Carol Spooner stated recently,

I strongly support Summer Reese in her position as Executive Director of Pacifica and in her efforts to preserve and protect the network and five Pacifica stations and their mission, and to prevent the total collapse of Pacifica into bankruptcy court, pay-off its debts, clean-up the corruption and financial mess, and rebuild. I believe those Pacifica directors who voted to fire her without cause weeks after her contract was signed acted with gross abuse of their authority and have recklessly and/or intentionally placed Pacifica in grave peril.

For full text, click here.

We have been internal observers and volunteer program hosts at KPFA for the past three and half years. Our Project Censored show Fridays 8-9 AM is now aired on thirteen Pacifica affiliate stations including WBAI and WPFW. We think we represent what the Pacifica Foundation mission statement means where it says we are to:

…engage in any activity that shall contribute to a lasting understanding between nations and between the individuals of all nations, races, creeds and colors; to gather and disseminate information on the causes of conflict between any and all of such groups…in radio broadcasting operations to promote the full distribution of public information; to obtain access to sources of news not commonly brought together in the same medium; and to employ such varied sources in the public presentation of accurate, objective, comprehensive news on all matters vitally affecting the community.

Given the long history of FBI COINTELPRO style disruptions among progressive/radical groups in Berkeley, documented by Seth Rosenfeld in his book Subversives (2012) among others, we think anyone would be naive to not consider that some elements of the national security state could be engaged in promoting dissension and disruption of Pacifica’s mission inside the network on a continuing basis. Therefore, we think that progressive people need to openly engage in the democratic process of choosing station representatives very seriously and call for immediate mediation for the Pacifica National Board.

We also strongly believe that adding and supporting volunteer programmers is part of the main mission of Pacifica. Pacifica was not created to have a full NPR-style paid professional staff, and that paid staff should act as supporters and trainers to community-based volunteers. Additionally, we strongly recommend that all listeners reach for their checkbooks during the current fund drive to help maintain a solidly listener-supported funding base, not only to keep Pacifica alive, but to help it thrive so that future generations can carry on its great and much-needed legacy.

Bringing Peace to KPFA

Aki Graphic

Underlying problems

Whenever there is a conflict, there is always an escalation in rhetoric, like when there was the inflammatory charge a few years ago that the Pacifica National Office was engaged in union busting. We should avoid getting caught up in the rhetoric and address the real problems and concerns.

One major area of friction is programming. It stands to reason that a trade union looking after the financial security of its members will prefer programming which appeals to a more affluent audience. But the mission of Pacifica is to be the commons of the airwaves, to represent a broader and more diverse community, to include marginalized and under-represented voices.

Programmers with established shows will understandably be protective of their airtime; however, Pacifica bylaws state that programming decisions and program evaluations should be done in a fair, collaborative and respectful manner (e.g. with a Program Council).

Another area of friction is the working relationship between paid and unpaid staff. Until 1996 both were represented by one “industrial” union. In 1996 this was changed to a “craft” union that no longer represented the unpaid staff. This created a class system resulting in an uneasy working relationship between the paid and unpaid staff.

Possible Solutions

So what to do with these conflicting needs and interests? How does a union look after the financial security of its members in a non-profit organization that relies on donations by listeners, does not make profits and must live within a balanced budget?

The primary task of the station should be to fulfill the mission of Pacifica. The management and union should carefully work out a staffing level that is sustainable over the economic ups and downs, and avoid the temptation to add more paid staff during the economic boom times as happened in 2001-2006.

Akio Tanaka

Akio Tanaka

The painful trauma of layoffs in 2010 is a consequence of having more than doubled the payroll (125% increase) between 2001 and 2010.

A sustainable paid staffing level would help address the main source of tension. It could curtail the seemingly endless appeal for funds. It could put a stop to the unseemly practice of measuring the value of a program by the amount of money it brings in – a sad and ironic state of affairs.

It is important to note that KPFA relies on a large number of unpaid staff; the majority of the programming is done by the unpaid staff. At KPFA there simply is not enough money to pay all those who contribute to the station. Progressive organizations like KPFA should have one all inclusive union for everyone who works at the station, or have in place a system to treat all workers fairly and equally.

The “Proud to be Union” banner at the station is unnecessarily divisive and should be taken down. While the notion of workers’ rights resonates to all within the progressive community, it must be remembered that it is to respect and honor ALL labor.

It is time for all the staff, paid and unpaid, and for listeners to embrace the democratic victory that was won for us in legal and street battles of 1999-2001. It is time to stop dividing the station.

by Akio Tanaka 03-15-14
[KPFA LSB Member 2006-2012]


2012 PLATFORM – United for Community Radio

United for Community Radio

       KPFA and Pacifica are a priceless resource.
We have the opportunity to be a force for change –
by amplifying the voices of the millions whose needs and desires, opinions and culture are overlooked, marginalized or silenced by the mainstream media.

1.    A Community Resource – To reclaim the mission of Pacifica and KPFA as a commons, with broad and diverse participation, and not to be controlled by any particular group or party.

2.  Both Station and Network – To maintain the integrity and financial viability of  KPFA and the Pacifica network – the national office, all five stations, the 180 affiliates, and the Archives. To develop a financial recovery and sustainability plan for KPFA to ensure its continued survival.

3.  Democratically Governed–To support governing boards that are elected by proportional representation, and that collaborate with, ensure accountability, and exercise oversight of station management.

4.  Program Council – To reactivate the Program Council, including representatives from the listener community and staff (unpaid and paid), to evaluate current and proposed programs.

5.  A Voice for Progressive Social Movements –To advocate for news, public affairs, music, arts and cultural programming that incorporate the voices of people’s movements and communities – including struggles for protection of human and labor rights, civil liberties and the environment; for social equality, self-determination of peoples, and freedom from imperialist domination and war. To balance the often difficult news with programming that is uplifting and facilitates human connections. We envision a vital and imaginative radio station that resonates with those reached by our signal.

6.  Mutual Respect– To recognize and respect the essential roles of unpaid and paid staff and apprentices, volunteers, management, and listeners. To foster cooperation and equal access to resources and training within the station, including the right to union representation, thus empowering both paid and unpaid staff to better fulfill Pacifica’s mission and potential. When major issues relating to Pacifica and KPFA are reported on the air, on the website, or at KPFA events, it should be in a fair and accurate manner.

7.  Listener Input – To ensure that the listeners have opportunities to  provide input  to  the station through various forms of feedback, including two annual, bylaws-mandated  Local Station Board (LSB)-hosted Town Hall meetings, regularly scheduled listener call-in shows and surveys.

8.  Web Presence – To improve KPFA’s web presence, including searchable archives by show and by subject, with links to background information and related stories. To work to integrate video, transcripts, live streaming and social media. This will help us to reach current and potential communities of listeners with KPFA’s unique content.

~labor donated~

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