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Bensky Fired; Sunday Salon Cancelled; Staff Reprimanded

by Alexander Cockburn And Jeffrey St. Clair

Larry Bensky, host of the weekly “Sunday Salon”program on Pacifica, has been fired by Pacifica Executive director LynnChadwick, and his program cancelled. In a letter to Bensky, Chadwick statesthat the firing is because of Bensky’s “repeated” violation ofPacifica’s policy of not discussing internal matters on the air.

?

Bensky devoted seventeen minutes of his two-hour programlast week to Pacifica’s firing of KPFA’s popular station manager, NicoleSawaya, and the controversy, which has resulted. He read a statement bythe KPFA staff criticizing the firing, refuted statements by Chadwick abouthim and his situation (he was previously “terminated” by Pacificain December, and re-hired after hundreds of protest calls and letters toChadwick and board chair Mary Frances Berry), and also read a statementhe had prepared for delivery to the Pacifica national board at its Berkeleymeeting in February.

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Meanwhile, six KPFA staff members, paid and unpaid, havereceived disciplinary warnings after reading a statement of solidarity withSawaya on the air. The six include KPFA morning show co-host Philip Maldari,”Flashpoints” producer/host Dennis Bernstein, and Labor commentatorDavid Bacon. Many KPFA program hosts continue to read the statement on theair, and KPFA program director Andrea Kissack, who delivered the warningsat Chadwick’s orders, says she will no longer cooperate in the “disciplinary”process, which may lead to further dismissals. Protests about Bensky’s dismissaland the actions against others at KPFA protesting Nicole Sawaya’s dismissaland the arbitrary and dangerous actions of a clearly out-of-control Pacificamanagement may be made to Chadwick and Berry.

?Rebellion at Pacifica’s FlagshipKPFA Radio Engulfed in Battle On 50th Birthday

In the eve of its 50th birthday, the staff of Berkeley’s KPFA radio is in open revolt, engulfed in a struggle over free speech,the very issue that has defined its existence. The immediate enemy thistime is not the government, which is lurking in the background, but itscorporate owner, the Pacifica Foundation, whose Executive director LynnChadwick, shocked station staff and listeners by firing KPFA’s popular generalmanager Nicole Sawaya on March 31, the last day of her probationary contract..(Counterpunch April 1-15)

After witnessing through her cloudy glass window a demonstrationof more than 150 staff and listeners on April 2, demanding Sawaya’s reinstatement,and listening to a week of on-air comments and news reports all criticalof the firing, and all in violation of her direct orders, Chadwick struckback, but as your typical corporate functionary, she didn’t do it herself.

After installing herself general manager, she ordered programdirector, Andrea Kissack, to give a “first warning” to six staffmembers including Flashpoints host Dennis Bernstein and long-time MorningShow co-host Philip Maldari for reading a staff statement protesting thefiring on the air. Their crime: breaking Pacifica’s notorious gag rule whichprohibits staff at the bastion of free- speech radio from mentioning stationbusiness on the air.

In liberal Pacifica, a programmer has four strikes beforehe or she is out. The second is a written warning; the third, suspensionwithout pay, and finally the coup de grace, termination, a word that morerolls more easily off the bureaucratic tongue than “firing.” (OnApril 8, Maldari, close to tears, read the staff’s statement on the airagain, thereby opening himself up to receiving a written warning.)

According to the KPFA news, Kissack had pleaded with Chadwicknot to be asked to give warning notices to the numerous programmers, whowent on the air after the firing and through the weekend, denouncing Chadwick’saction, “because of the high emotions running through the station.”On April 7, however, with emotions still high in the station , she capitulated.According to the KPFA news, she said she was “only following orders.”Undeterred, KPFA programmers have continued to repeat the announcement thathad been agreed upon at a packed staff meeting the day before:

“After relating how Sawaya was fired because, allegedly,”she wasn’t a good fit for the organization., the statement read, “KPFA’s paid and unpaid staff unanimously demands the return of Nicole aswell as independent mediation of the dispute. We also appeal to our listenersfor their support and assistance in this difficult time. This statementwas prepared after KPFA’s staff met and decided to take unified action eventhough reading this statement violates Pacifica’s order not to mention theongoing dispute on the air. ” Listeners were asked to e-mail staffat <savepacifica@hotmail.com> or phone the station at 510-848-6767.”

Larry Bensky has announced openly that he will neithermeet with Chadwick nor obey the gag rule and has promised, as the KPFA newsreported on April 8, that he will devote his national Pacifica show. SundaySalon, airing on April 10, to the firing and its aftermath. Chadwick willbe hard pressed to threaten penalties against others while leaving him alone.Not only did Bensky make a fiery speech at the staff and listener rally,on his April 4th show he dissected a statement that Chadwick had carefullyprepared for the press, which said, among other things, that the firingof Sawaya was “not news.”.

Moreover, he read the Pacifica staff statement followedby the presentation he was prevented from completing at the Pacifica Boardmeeting in Berkeley on February 28, which graphically detailed the expansionof Pacifica’s power at the expense of its five stations over the past twodecades. Not stopping there, he gave out the phone, fax and e-mail addressesfor Chadwick and Pacifica Board Chair Mary Frances Berry, and announcedthat the staff had set up an e-mail list with a web site to provide informationand to elicit comments from the listeners. As of Thursday, March 8, Berryhad apparently received so many faxes that she disconnected the line.

This was Pacifica’s second major controversy in a littlemore than a month. Counterpunch readers will recall the battle over a by-lawchange which allowed the Pacifica Board to become a totally self- selecting,self-perpetuating entity, accountable only to the FCC, the Corporation forPublic Broadcasting and the IRS, according to the network’s “communicationsdirector,” Elan Fabri.

The firing of Sawaya was too much, as well, for the station’s50th anniversary committee which was ready to initiate a major fund driveon April 15, KPFA’s 50th birthday. The committee, composed of both majordonors and old friends of the station, announced, April 5, that it had “decidedunanimously to temporarily suspend our activities due to the ongoing crisiswithin Pacifica triggered but not limited to the precipitous terminationof General Manager Nicole Sawaya.”

“To have provoked predictable turmoil within the KPFAcommunity on the eve of launching the 50th anniversary capital campaignhas made it impossible for us to carry on.” the statement continued.”This action can only have a concomitant ripple effect on the largerPacifica community and alienate our base of support.”

Instead of a celebration on April 15, the staff is callingfor a major rally by listeners and staff in front of the station at noon.For information: e-mail: savepacifica@hotmail.com; see: http://www.radio4all.org/freepacifica and call the station at 510-848- 6767.

CP

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net. Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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