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Pacifica Myths and Realities | The Nation

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Pacifica Myths and Realities

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Since our very beginning, Pacifica Radio has been a tumultuous and controversial experiment, striving to mesh together divergent views and passionate factions. As a result, there have always been conflicts and contradictions behind the scenes.

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Unfortunately, some make alarming charges--and use hateful rhetoric--to gain advantage by heightening internal conflict. We urge you to think critically before you believe or follow those who claim they must "save Pacifica" but use tactics completely counter to the Pacifica mission.

MYTH: There's been a corporate takeover of the Pacifica National Board.

Reality: Untrue. Pacifica's board is little different than any other progressive non-profit. There is no corporate influence or formal corporate presence on the board. Unlike any other public stations, Pacifica does not solicit or accept any corporate donations or underwriting for its programming.

MYTH: Pacifica wants to sell off one of its radio stations.

Reality: Absolutely untrue. Pacifica's board of directors are unpaid volunteers. Even if they desired, there is no way they could personally profit from such a sale. In recent years, as this rumor grew in to an often repeated lie, the Pacifica National Board has passed multiple unanimous motions declaring that no station is for sale.

It is true that two years ago one board member wrote a memo exploring the value of a sale, primarily as an evaluation of Pacifica's assets. He thought Pacifica might consider the idea of trading one of its commercial frequencies for a non-commercial frequency in the same community, while turning the valuable commercial license into a multi-million dollar endowment for Pacifica's historically under-funded mission. This idea found no support. The board has repeatedly--and unanimously--rejected selling any station.

MYTH: Pacifica wants to water down or mainstream its programming by tilting toward the Democratic Party.

Reality: This is an absurdity. The National Board has no direct authority over programming and has not made any directives or suggestions to any staff about the content of such. Neither has the national executive staff intervened to alter or modify any programming. Left of center and radical views still abound on Pacifica stations with absolutely no interference from program management. Trust your ears and not the rumor mill.

MYTH: KPFA in Berkeley was shut down by Pacifica after programmers were yanked from the air because they criticized Pacifica management.

Reality: Not true. After KPFA's manager was not renewed by Pacifica in the spring of 1999, programming staff was on the air for 100 days--unchecked - agitating for her return and making one-sided accusations against Pacifica management. Finally, Pacifica called for programmers to stop agitating on the air about the dispute. That evening, one programmer went on the air - disrupting a live news cast--and passionately claimed that he was in physical danger from management thugs. This was immediately followed by a physical occupation of the station by demonstrators let in by this programmer's producer. Acting in defense of its federal license--which requires broadcasters be in control of airwaves and facilities--Pacifica pulled KPFA's live programming and replaced it with archive tapes. Many hours later, after the occupiers repeatedly refused to leave the station, they were arrested by Berkeley police. Weeks later, station staff returned to the air. It's now two years later, and some KPFA staff and volunteers still use programs they host to agitate against Pacifica on air.

MYTH: Pacifica carried out a "Xmas Coup" this past December at its New York station WBAI.

Reality: Last November, the long time manager of WBAI was requested to step down from her post while being offered a comparable alternative executive level post. The manager resisted her dismissal for several weeks. On December 1, she was given 30 days notice. Some of the WBAI staff -- including individuals who had previously and publicly denounced this manager as incompetent--then rallied to her defense. On December 23, Pacifica "dissidents" and some staff openly called on air for a "listener occupation" of the studios. In response, Pacifica national management dismissed the manager, the management-level program director and his producer. Pacifica named Utrice Leid, a WBAI staff programmer who hosted an afternoon talk show, to be interim manager. She requested that the locks be changed at WBAI to thwart the planned takeover of the studios.

MYTH: Pacifica and KPFK muzzle open on-air discussion with a "gag rule."

Reality: Not true. Pacifica and KPFK have no gag rule. Instead, they enforce universal journalistic and organizational standards. Because radio is a unilateral medium, with a programer speaking "at" the listeners with no rebuttal, KPFK does not permit individual programmers to divert air time to agitate about their personal positions on internal management and personnel matters. This is standard practice in every and all journalistic organizations.

This practice is of even greater importance in highly politicized stations such as the Pacifica outlets. This "dirty laundry" rule was adopted by KPFK very early in our history, and currently, there's a strong consensus of support for this policy among KPFK's staff and volunteers. Given decades of controversy and internal conflict, to not prohibit airing "dirty laundry" attacks would open the door to around the clock factionalism and raise serious legal liability for Pacifica. All current and former employees have a right to privacy and confidentiality in personnel matters and Pacifica is responsible for whatever is said on our airwaves.

Can you think of any political or social organization that allows anyone with an ax to grind to unilaterally hijack newsletter space and--without any factual vetting or editorial process--denounce its own organization's policies, staff members and leadership? Our "dirty laundry" is not new or unusual; it was adopted to protect our mission-driven program.

MYTH: Amy Goodman who hosts Democracy Now! is being persecuted for her political ideas.

Reality: The political content of DN is no more provocative or radical than countless other Pacifica radio programs that are nurtured and defended by the network. Amy Goodman has never been given any directives regarding the content of the program. However, as Democracy Now! currently consumes 100% of Pacifica's non-news national programming budget, the five Pacifica sister stations (which finance the program) have a number of issues with DN that require some solutions, such as program planning and promotion, fund drive coordination, and technical quality standards. This derives from the fact that for 2 years DN had no manager to scrutinize and oversee administrative operations. When a program manager was finally named last year and some efforts were made to address the longstanding non-editorial problems at Democracy Now!, some falsely politicized the situation by portraying Ms. Goodman as a victim of ideological discrimination.

MYTH: Local Advisory Boards are fighting to democratize the Pacifica National Board.

Reality: The National Board of Pacifica is no more or less than democratic than the average non-profit board. However, the Local Advisory Board (LAB) is completely self-selecting and not in anyway accountable to the individual stations. In the case of KPFK, the current LAB has been hijacked by a small group of anti-Pacifica zealots who have hand-picked board members to support their extremely costly lawsuits against the network. On several occasions in recent years, an overwhelming majority of KPFK staff have formally demanded that the leadership of the Local Advisory Board resign and give way to individuals more interested in supporting KPFK than in suing Pacifica. The Local Board leaders have intransigently refused. Of all the bodies that make up Pacifica--staff, volunteers, unions, management, listeners and boards--the so-called Local Advisory Board is the only body that has zero accountability and no real responsibility. And sadly, the current KPFK LAB leadership focuses narrowly on fueling recent conflict and makes no contribution to the ongoing work of the station.

MYTH: Pacifica and KPFK have committed various acts of censorship.

Reality: This is a lie. In the political turmoil around Pacifica over the last two years, there have been a handful of incidents in which individual programmers have irresponsibly diverted air time from programming air their personal grievances, to make one-sided accusations about personnel matters, or to agitate listeners to join factions to protest such matters. Many, many people contribute and work behind the scenes at Pacifica. For the few who have access to a mic, to misuse the mic for these matters is an abuse of the privilege of being on the air. And it's unfair to all sides involved in such disputes. In these different cases, programmers have suffered various sanctions--most commonly their comments on these issues have been taken from the air. Again, these are measures that are absolutely necessary in defending the rights of the personnel under discussion and in no way or manner constitute any form of political or journalistic censorship.

At KPFK, there's a strong consensus for enforcing "the dirty laundry rule", but despite what you may have read elsewhere, no one--we repeat not one single person--has been fired or "banned" in recent history for simply violating that policy.

MYTH: The current "dissident campaign" is aimed at making the programming and management of Pacifica and KPFK more progressive.

Reality: The main objectives of the current political campaign against Pacifica are two fold: to ratchet-up the various awsuits against the network and to enforce an economic boycott against the 5 stations. These are, in effect, twin goals as the various lawsuits have already cost Pacifica hundreds of thousands of dollars. Whatever one's view of the Pacifica National Board, they serve as unpaid volunteers and economic starvation of the stations can only have two effects: 1) to force the layoff of unionized staff members and programming budget cuts and 2) to encourage whatever commercial forces there might be anywhere in the network. The reduction of listener-support can only give aid and comfort to those who would argue for "alternative" forms of financing. Virtually every other public radio station in the country has long ago accepted corporate underwriting as a means to survive.

MYTH: Pacifica is engaged in "union busting", workers are being mistreated, and there is a "strike" against Pacifica National News (PNN).

Reality: Pacifica--unlike almost any other community radio stations in America--has unionized staff, and despite our modest salaries, offers the most generous benefits and progressive worker protections to be found anywhere. These false charges are not being made by the unions, but by a handful of anti-Pacifica activists who intentionally seek to distort and dis-inform. Pacifica National News staff, like the staff at KPFK, are members of AFTRA and there is no contract dispute of any kind, nor has there been any strike. Some non-union stringers (freelancers who contributed occasional stories to PNN) claim to be "on strike" against Pacifica and have attacked unionized staff members and the majority of other PNN contributors as "scabs" for not joining their ideologically-driven boycott of PNN. But these stringers do not seek union representation, only editorial control over the work of others. This gross mis-use of the rhetoric of union struggle--to mislead people and promote their own narrow agenda--is an insult to the hard-won gains of the labor movement. AFTRA and other unions at Pacifica have issued strong statements against these non-union tactics.

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