Lawsuit Readied to Reverse Takeover By Pacifica Foundation Directors

by Alexander Cockburn And Jeffrey St. Clair

Legal counsel for community members from Local Advisory Boards of FM radio stations KPFK (Los Angeles), KPFA (Berkeley) and WBAI (New York), has informed the Pacifica Foundation, which owns the non-commercial stations, that they will take legal action unless Pacifica’s Board of Directors reverses recently enacted changes in Foundation by-laws that give the Pacifica Governing Board exclusive right to nominate and elect its entire membership.

Attorney Dan Siegel, of the Oakland firm Siegel and Yee, in a letter dated June 14, informed Pacifica Chair Mary F. Berry and Pacifica Governing Board members of the complaint on behalf of sixteen members from Local Advisory Boards (LABs) at Pacifica’s three largest stations. The letter charges that the by-laws changes approved by the Governing Board in September 1997 and February 1999 violate provisions of the California Corporations Code. Further, Siegel wrote, “Pacifica, when faced with the question of changing its method of choosing its leadership, opted for the least democratic option imaginable. It is time to revisit this issue, and it should be unnecessary to require a court order to do so.” Prior to the contested changes, LABs elected a majority of the Pacifica Governing Board. Station staff representatives on LABs have also seen their voting rights removed, along with their ability to serve on the Governing Board.

This is the latest development in a nearly 5-year long conflict over the issue of governance, democracy and community control at Pacifica, the largest non-commercial radio broadcaster in the United States. The Pacifica Foundation is a network of listener-supported radio stations founded 50 years ago to provide a venue for the open discussion of ideas that would lead to peace and social justice.

Prior to the most recent vote to change Pacifica By-Laws, prominent progressive authors Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and Edward Herman, wrote Pacifica urging it to respect the democratic principles it broadcasts and noted, “As long-time admirers and supporters of Pacifica, we are troubled by apparent tendencies toward increased centralization of power and decision-making that bring Pacifica closer to the private corporate model.” Nonetheless, the Governing Board approved the changes unanimously.

Pacifica’s Governing Board meets this coming weekend in Washington DC. The agenda includes consideration of new board members according to the provisions of the amended by-laws. Siegel indicates that the sixteen LAB members he represents are prepared to file suit if Pacifica fails to establish contact to enter into negotiations by Friday.

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