RACE AND POWER AT PACIFICA RADIO
former programming and news director, KPFT Houston DIVERSITY AND POWER: THE POLITICS OF DISTORTION
A storm has been unleashed in the struggle over the direction of Pacifica station KPFA in Berkeley, and the battle between rebellious staff and listener-sponsors there, on one hand, and the Pacifica hierarchy, on the other, has grave implications for the future of community broadcasting throughout the US
It is time that the issues at stake receive a thorough examination, and , in particular, that the charges of racism being leveled at the KPFA group are examined in the actual context in which they occur. Indeed, as the Diversity Group ( which supports Pacifica Executive Director Lynn Chadwick’s position) suggests, the real issues pertain to Power and in whose interests that power will be exercised.
What the Diversity Group consciously ignores, however, are the larger questions at play here with respect to the use of governmental power and issues of class. The Diversity Group shunts aside the fundamental issue at stake, which can be formulated as follows: Will Pacifica continue to serve the interests of the propertyless and the oppressed, or will its programming agenda be mainstreamed to serve the interests of the normal functioning of power through containing the content of programming within parameters that are acceptable to mainstream audiences, and thus to the elites that rule us?
We don’t see such fundamental issues formulated or addressed in the Diversity Groups paper, instead we encounter in their arguments certain buzzwords – like ‘diversity’ itself – that can be made to mean many things to many people – and that are used in the context of their communiqu? to justify, ultimately, Pacifica’s ‘Five Year Plan,’ a document that has guided Pacifica in the gutting of programs devoted to the constituencies in whose interests Pacifica and the Diversity Group claim to be acting. But before analyzing these matters in depth, allow me to present a very concrete example of what is meant by ‘diversity’ in the realpolitick of Pacifica today.
?THE DEATH OF DIVERSITY: THE PACIFICA AGENDA
Mary Francis Berry, Chair of both the US Civil Rights Commission and of the Pacifica Board, held, in a talk at Columbia University, that Pacifica station KPFT represents the direction Pacifica should be moving with respect to diversity. As a former Program Director at that station, I have an intimate knowledge of just what she means by this. The record here speaks for itself and paints its own picture as to who and what is being served by Pacifca’s Five Year Plan. This, then, is a partial record of the changes that have occurred at KPFT, Berry’s ‘model’ of diversity.
KPFT ‘s locally produced news programming has been completely eliminated.
Mid-Day public affairs programming no longer exists.
There is no longer a single public affairs program rooted in the Latino community – a community that makes up fully a third of Houston’s population.
The Persian Program – founded by anti-Shah/ anti-Khomeni activists – was eliminated at a time when there was imminent danger of war between Iran and US imperialism, as the US had warships in the Persian gulf.
The Arabic Hour – one of the most intellectually respectable programs on KPFT, was eliminated. during Desert Shield – as the US prepared to go to war against Arab Iraq to seize strategic control of the world’s oil supply.
Gay programming has been significantly cut – its been depoliticized – it is no longer the force – or the threat – it was when KPFT volunteer programmer Fred Paez, a high profile gay activist, was murdered by Houston Police.
Lesbian programming has been driven off the air – including Breakthrough – a hugely popular program that was one of the stations’ highest revenue generators.
There is now one hour of feminist programming each week.
Peace, Pipes and Visions, the Native American program, is gone.
The Atheist program is gone.
The Viet Namese program is gone.
The Chinese program is gone.
The Pakistani program -gone.
Only one Black program remains today at KPFT and an African music program.
Variety in musical programming has been dramatically curtailed. (While there has been an increase in overall listenership for the station, what they are listening to is a homogenized blend of NPR style talk programs with a kind of country music format that bears no resemblance to the kind of programming the original Pacifica Mission statement required.)
The Music of India program is gone after 19 years of service. There is not a single Asian program left on KPFT.
Gary Coover’s brilliantly produced Celtic music program, Shepherd’s Hey has fallen, because Gary stood up and spoke out against the changes. Indeed, all organized opposition was crushed.
KPFT once broadcasted in 8 languages. Today the trend is “English Only.”
Such, then, is the record. At KPFT, Berry’s model for diversity, and throughout the network, diversity in programming is systematically being killed. These changes represent a protracted assault on and betrayal of the values that Pacifica has long embodied and represent the essence of Pacifica’s Five Year Plan. That plan is, in its origin, its effect and as we shall see, in its very essence, racist and classist. Similar, though less drastic changes have occurred throughout the network, including the virtual elimination of Spanish language programming at Pacifica’s Los Angeles station, KPFK and the elimination of the more radical Black programmers at KPFA in Berkeley.
The open letter from the “Diversity Group” asserts the following:
“The problems facing Pacifica and KPFA are not new ones. They have existed in various forms for the past 20 years. The underlying issue is about power; its overarching theme is about diversity and what that means for the future of Pacifica. The outcome, whatever that may be, is about how to bring about change. Pacifica has defined the change in its long-term vision statement as an attempt to make the Pacifica stations more relevant and more representative of the audiences that they should serve. However, on a local level, the KPFA staff have defined the issue as their ability to make programming and financial decisions without oversight. These are two completely different formulations of the same issue – the exercise of power. In the process of staking out these positions, what is lost is the common issues that unite Pacifica management, KPFA staff, and the community. It is important to remember that the current state of affairs at KPFA does not have to be viewed as an “us and them” situation, nor do possible solutions have to be limited to “either one or the other…”
We can see that, indeed, ONE of the key issues at Pacifica is diversity. We can see what the Five Year Plan has meant in practice ( that plan is also referred to as the ‘vision’ document’) and we can also see , in small part, what is meant – and what is not meant- by the term ‘relevant and more representative of the audiences that they should serve.’ It means Not serving those audiences, despite the rhetoric of the Diversity Group, Berry, Chadwick and Pacifica itself.THE CPB AND PACIFICA’S ‘FIVE YEAR PLAN’
What remains to be seen is the nature of Pacifica’s ‘vision’ in the context of governmental string-pulling and pressure to mainstream programming throughout the world of public radio, how this pressure gave birth to the Five Year Plan and the drastic and antidemocratic results of all this in the entirety of the Pacifica network– including the racist and sexist programming policies that engendered such heavy changes at KPFT, where the Pacifica vision has advanced farthest, union busting efforts on the part of Pacifica. Only then can we properly address the issue of the demands being raised by the KPFA staff. It is , contrary to the Diversity Group position, and ‘us or them’ situation. What follows is a brief sketch of the relationship between ‘diversity,’ Corporation for Public Broadcasting manipulation of the direction of programming in public radio, and its impact at Pacifica. Perhaps the sharpest and clearest way in which to illuminate this process will be to look at it through the lens of the allegations of racism leveled By Dr. Berry and the Diversity Group against the KPFA staff and supporters…
Lynn Chadwick, Pacifica’s Executive Director, comes to us from the NFCB ( the National Confederation of Community Broadcasters,) and also by way of having played a role in establishing new CPB standards for the eligibility of community radio stations to receive goevernment funding. These standards require of community radio stations a higher level of income from listener -sponsors if they are to qualify for government monies. Only those entities that can be shown to qualify as ‘minority’ groups can be exempted from these standards.
Despite the admiration of some groups for Chadwick’s commitment to diversity, these changes force community stations- if they have become dependent on CPB funds for staffing or other needs ( real or perceived) to alter their programming schedules so as to appeal to a higher income bracket, White, and more mainstream audience than has been traditional at many community stations- most especially in the Pacifica network. This, as we have seen in the example of KPFT above, leads to the elimination of diversity at the stations effected, especially, as should be obvious by now, it leads to the elimination of programming for lower income, non-White groups and other audiences not in the mainstream of American culture and cash flow. In short, the CPB policies which Chadwick helped to create, are, in their essence, racist and classist. Of course the kind of radical politics that are at the heart of the Pacifca tradition – including some feminist programming- are being mainstreamed out of the schedules as well.
Another result has been the tokenization of the Pacifica’s national board. The presence of ‘minority’ representatives on the Board has little to do with serving the objective interests of their respective communities and everything to do with the ‘need’ to retain CPB funding, which, of course, is the linchpin in a schema that that squeezes out programming for the oppressed nationalities and propertyless and other non-mainstream audiences.
All the talk in Pacifica’s Five Year Plan about the professionalization of the air sound, the capturing of the mainstream news/ talk audience and the ‘vision’ concentrated therein of a Pacifica that is influential in Washington- all this reduces, in fact, to the elimination of the Pacifica tradition in programming. The simple fact that ‘The New Pacifica’ eliminated the original Mission Statement of the Foundation bears eloquent testimony to this point. A Board that promotes this agenda is hardly promoting an agenda of ‘diversity,’ the presence of a few ‘minority’ faces in high places notwithstanding.
Yet these are the forces, Dr. MF Berry foremost among them, that, while falsely claiming the mantle of ‘diversity,’ attack their opponents with charges of ‘racism.’ That these charges are disingenuous, (even given the unsubstantiated likelihood that in a few instances racially motivated slurs may have occurred on the part of scattered individuals in what is a very broad based movement,) should be obvious by now.
But to complete the picture, let’s examine the record in light of the following comments by John Stauber of PR Watch on the measures taken by many corporate PR offices to discredit oppositional movements, bearing in mind as we do the recent charges by Pacifica and the Diversity Group of extremism, localism and racism on the part of their opponents at KPFA and their characterization of the broad based movement to free Pacifica as ‘violent.’PACIFICA’S WAR ON TRUTH: SPIN CONTROL AND POLICE MEASURES
From “War on Truth, The Secret Battle for the American Mind – an interview with John Stauber”. Sentient Times, June 1999.
“Some years ago, in a speech to clients in the cattle industry, Ron Duchin, senior vice-president of the PR firm Mongoven, Biscoe and Duchin (which probably represents a quarter of the largest corporations), outlined his firm’s basic divide-and-conquer strategy for defeating any social change movement. Activists, he explained, fall into three basic categories: radicals, idealists, and realists. The first step in his strategy is to isolate and marginalize the radicals. They’re the ones who see the inherent structural problems that need remedying if indeed a particular change is to occur. To isolate them, PR firms will try to create a perception in the public mind that people advocating fundamental solutions are terrorists, extremists, fear mongers, outsiders, communists, or whatever.
After marginalizing the radicals, the PR firm then identifies and “educates” the idealists – concerned and sympathetic members of the public – by convincing them that the changes advocated by the radicals would hurt people. The goal is to sour the idealists on the idea of working with the radicals, and instead get them working with the realists.
Realists, according to Duchin, are people who want reform but don’t really want to upset the status quo; big public-interest organizations that rely on foundation grants and corporate contributions are a prime example. With the correct handling, Duchin says, realists can be counted on to cut a deal with industry that can be touted as a “win-win” solution, but that is actually an industry victory.”
That the Diversity Group and Pacifica intend to isolate and split the movement arrayed against them, painting it as racist and violent, that they intend to sour relations between the Berkeley groups and their progressive supporters nationally while serving up a ‘solution’ that would constitute a victory for the pro-CPB, pro- Five Year Plan and pro-government forces within Pacifica itself, cannot be denied.
We will deal now with the Diversity Group’s call for a ‘win- win’ solution to the Pacifica crisis in its proper context, that of the brutal conditions that face the KPFA staff in the workplace and the tactics most recently employed by Pacifica in its effort to divide and crush the Berkeley movement and its nationwide network of support.
The KPFA staff operates under the daily oppression of fear- of loss of jobs, career, of livelihood. Pacifica was founded as a bastion of free speech- yet even the news staff lives under constant threat of firing if they report the events taking place within Pacifca as news.
This pertains not only to the most immediate issues surrounding their own strike- but the larger issues as well of the merits or demerits of CPB funding, Pacifica’s union busting activities – even the condemnation of Pacifica by the National Labor Relations Board for unfair labor practices at KPFA’s sister station in New York, WBAI, to the finding of the CPB itself that Pacifica is in violation of regulations regarding open meetings, to say nothing of the overall direction represented by the Five Year Plan and to recent vote by Pacifica’s national board to make its membership immune from all formal local input and to convert itself into a self-perpetuating entity.
In the wake of recent protests which included a sit-in in the tradition of nonviolence, board chair Mary Berry placed a call to the US Justice Department, urging that agency to lean on the Berkeley police for not being more aggressive in arresting the protesters ( this from Berry as the head of the US Civil Rights Commission.) Pacifica has also placed a half-dozen armed guards within the station itself from an organization with close links to the Justice Department.
Not content with these measures, Pacifica has also targeted its listeners for intimidation- recently ( within the last week) handing over to Berkeley Police all of the thousands of letters from KPFA staff supporters for investigation by a criminal psychologist.
The justification for this investigation is that any one of these people may have been responsible for a suspicious shooting around the hour of midnight some two months ago that shattered a computer in the empty building that houses Pacifica’s national offices. Pacifica public relations manager Elan Fabbri characterized this not as a gross violation of the civil rights of its listeners, but as an investigation for ‘attempted murder’ – a spin that is transparently false but that does great service in painting the movement to democratize Pacifica as ‘violent’ and in intimidating Pacifica’s listener sponsors, who had just made the most recent KPFA fund drive the most successful in its 50 year history by pledging some $610,000 – 85% of which was contributed under protest. In the meantime Dr. Berry has held forth a promise of federal ‘conciliation’ meetings to the staff and listener support groups in Berkeley. The results of these meeting, by definition are non-binding, and only the federal ‘conciliator’ can define what is to be discussed. The carrot to follow the big stick.
As the movement to free Pacifica grows by leaps and bounds, garnering support and press at a national level, the moves by Pacifica headquarters to counter the movement grow increasingly extreme, harsh, and desperate.
It is in this context that the Diversity Group holds forth its clich?s regarding ‘win / win’ possibilities. Pacifica itself holds forth a different premise – negotiations on their terms- or else.PRINCIPLES, POWER AND PERSONALITIES: THE UNDERLYING ISSUES
The Diversity Group asserts the following:
‘The underlying issue is about power and its overarching theme is about diversity and what that means for the future of Pacifica. The outcome, whatever that may be, is about how to bring about change. Pacifica has defined the change in its long-term vision statement as an attempt to make the Pacifica stations more relevant and more representative of the audiences that they should serve. However, on a local level, the KPFA staff has defined the issue as their ability to make programming and financial decisions without oversight. These are two completely different formulations of the same issue? the exercise of power.’
We have seen the meaning of ‘diversity’ in its current manifestations within Pacifca, and we have gotten a taste of what it means to live under Pacifica’s power under the influence of federal agencies like the CPB and the power of the highly placed members of the federal government, like Dr. Berry, that run Pacifica today. Nonetheless, while localism does not equate with racism or moral and cultural backwardness (as the movements detractors attempt to suggest,) the current formal definition of the struggle by KPFA staff and supporters does not explicitly address many key issues – but instead makes the mistake of mutineers who still place unwarranted trust in their captain – leaving these matters undefined under a demand for negotiations on all of the underlying issues that have caused their rebellion.
There is some truth in the Diversity Group’s criticism of the movement for focusing on personalities – but not because Pacifica’s Executive Director emobies justice and diversity, but because the movement has failed ,as is often the case in new movements against injustice, to grasp the political motives and guiding forces of the personalities involved and the class interests they represent.
Popular perception in Berkeley defines these issues broadly as the need for democratic accountability on the part of a now-insulated and self perpetuating national board, the need for a restructuring of Pacifca’s by-laws to reflect democratic concerns and the reinstatement of staff fired for breaking what is popularly known as the Pacifica ‘Gag Rule.’ But there is another, deeper agenda that has significant currency among KPFA staff and supporters, a set of comprehensive demands that gives lie to the effort by the Diversity Group to characterize the Berkeley position as localistic, narrow and without a larger vision of the role of Pacifica for the future. These demands, known as the ’15 Demands’ follow:
1) WE DEMAND the abolishment of the “Gag Rule”
We demand the abolishment of the “dirty laundry” or gag rule and the initiation of a process of unscreened and uncensored discussion regarding these demands concerning Pacifica on the Pacifica airwaves and through other appropriate means that may be at Pacifica’s disposal or under its control.
2) WE DEMAND the rehiring of any Pacifica staff person fired for violating the “Gag Rule”
We demand the re-employment of any staff members fired for violating the gag rule and the replacement of any program removed from the air for violation of that rule. We demand the re-employment of any staff removed by Pacifica in retaliation for their opposition to the Pacifica policies under discussion in these demands. We demand that layoffs resulting from anticipated revenue shortfalls due to this strike begin in and remain concentrated among staff at Pacifica’s National Offices.
3) WE DEMAND an end to political censorship
4) WE DEMAND the end of racist and sexist programming policies
We demand an end to racist and sexist programming policies. We demand the cessation of attacks on and an end to the removal of programs devoted to Women, the Black and Latino communities and many other minority groups and a reversal of the wholesale removal of programs that Pacifica initiated against almost all programs with radical leftist content.
5) WE DEMAND that Pacifica’s so-called 5 year plan be rescinded.
6) WE DEMAND the firing of all outside programming consultants.
7)WE DEMAND the immediate cessation of all union busting activities and the withdrawal of all legal action against unions associated with Pacifica.
8) WE DEMAND the re-unionization of all Pacifica stations on the basis of new contracts.
9) WE DEMAND the cessation of all CPB funding at Pacifica.
This funding source threatens to compromise Pacifica’s integrity in a way the founders believed they had made impossible. The CPB interference in Pacifica’s internal affairs is no different than that of any other corporate or governmental sponsor, and accepting such funds violates the fundamental premises of the foundation.
10) WE DEMAND that Pacifica refuse grants from all foundations and other corporate entities and that it place complete reliance on its listener sponsors as the only safeguard of the foundation’s integrity.
11) WE DEMAND that no Pacifica station shall be sold and that all plans for the sale of WBAI and /or KPFA and other stations be immediately abandoned.
12) WE DEMAND roll back of National Office management positions and of the National Office’s level of centralized control to 1977 levels ( as outlined in the Bensky proposal.) The return of decision making power to local stations and the sharp curtailment of the power of the executive director.
13) WE DEMAND the reconstitution of the Pacifica national and local boards based on democratic elections and the resignation of all national board members.
14) WE DEMAND the creation of a governance system for Pacifica that includes meaningful participation and binding decision making powers for Pacifica’s listener-sponsors and its paid and unpaid workers.
15) WE DEMAND the popularization of the process of selecting general managers and program directors at all Pacifica stations and the emplacement of mechanisms of accountability to the staffs and listeners for those who hold those positions.
This set of demands reflects the understanding of former Pacifica staff, programmers volunteers and listeners from across the nation who have done years of research into the underlying causes of what has now erupted as the crisis at KPFA. Among the hundreds of documents recorded and generated by these forces, are a redrafting of Pacifca’s now-adulterated by-laws. These demands are designed to lay the groundwork for the restoration of Pacifica to its original Mission.
It is an honor to be among those who have remained loyal to the vision and tradition of Pacifica’s founders, and an honor to play some role, however small, in opposing those who have betrayed it, who dance to a tune called from the highest levels of power. The enemies of Pacifica have repeatedly attacked the network for its radicalism from the floor of the US House and Senate and elsewhere. They have an agenda of destroying the network’s independence that dates back to the late 1970′s and is a matter of public record, including the Congressional Record. Their ultimate agenda, of course, is to continue their record of imperial conquest and domination – without resistance from the legacy of radicalism embodied in the Pacifica tradition or the power of such a medium of mass comunication as a force for organizing resistance to their empire. Speaking for myself, my resistance to the New Pacifica is and will remain a part of my desire to be rid of the system into whose hands Pacifica is being betrayed.
Amor y Lucha Hasta la Victoria!