|National Effort to Save Pacifica Radio
by Judith Scherr for the Berkeley
Daily Planet | March 27, 2001
Protests that began in Berkeley two years ago against the
Pacifica Foundation governing board, which holds the license to five
listener-sponsored radio stations, have spread across the country,
with demonstrations at New York's WBAI against the firings and
bannings of staff and volunteers, pickets at Houston's KPFT and a
mass meeting of supporters of Los Angeles' KPFK.
The governing board is fighting back, alleging in a media
campaign that "dissenters" are using the tactic of physical assault
and death threats as part of their tactics.
Friday evening some 1,200 persons attended a panel discussion on
the "Dirty Tricks by Pacifica Execs" in a Los Angeles church.
And on Saturday in Berkeley, about 200 people paid $50 a pop to
go to the Freight and Salvage Coffee House to hear the same folks,
Democracy Now! radio host Amy Goodman, Dan Coughlin, former Pacifica
news director who was fired after talking on air about a one-day
Pacifica boycott by various stations carrying the Pacifica News; and
Bernard White, recently fired from his post as program director at
The event was billed as a fund-raiser for the KPFA program Flash
Points, whose host, Dennis Bernstein said he wanted to hire one of
the fired New York programmers to work on his five-day-a-week
international news magazine.
Bernstein, active in the protest against Pacifica for two years,
introduced the topic of the day, fighting back against the governing
board: "If there's a fire in the theater and you don't shout, then
you must stand responsible for the fire."
At the end of March 1999, popular KPFA station manager Nicole
Sawaya was terminated by Pacifica Management. On-air calls for her
reinstatement led to gag orders from Pacifica management, followed
by the firing of national talkshow host Larry Bensky, the
termination of volunteer programmers and an eventual lock-out of
station employees and volunteers. Daily protests and a march of more
than 10,000 were part of the summerís events, which saw the station
re-open, lawsuits filed, but no resolution to the long-term question
of how the listener-sponsors get a voice in the governance of the
Coughlin blamed the firings and bannings at WBAI, which began in
December and have been dubbed the "Christmas coup," on a "political
purge," targeting activist programmers.
As news director "I was told to tone down the news coverage,"
said Coughlin, who was removed from his post in November 1999. He
accused the Pacifica management of not wanting the listeners to
"hear about our boys dropping bombs and killing babies in Iraq."
Pacifica spokesperson Angela Jones said Monday she tried to get
Executive Director Bessie Wash to return a Daily Planet call for
comment, but Wash was in meetings.
Goodman told the audience at the Freight and Salvage that she is
being harassed by management who argue that calling the network
"Free speech radio" is an escalation (of Pacifica-listener
tensions)."" She regularly signs off her show saying that it
emanates from the station of "the fired and the banned." "There has
been tremendous pressure to stop saying that," Goodman said. She
said she's filed a grievance with her union, because she's employed
in a "hostile work place."
Goodman's complaints called garbage
Board member John Murdock, of Epstein, Becker & Gree, the law
firm working on behalf of the Pacifica Foundation fighting the
listener, Local Advisory Board and staff lawsuits, called Goodman's
complaints "garbage" and said she can talk about anything on the air
"except personnel issues."
Murdock added that "If she felt that strongly, she should take
her show and go somewhere else."
Dissent has escalated at Pacifica's New York Bureau where some 15
programmers and volunteers have been fired and banned from the
station, according to Coughlin. About a month ago, programmer Juan
Gonzalez, who had co-hosted Democracy Now! with Goodman, resigned
from the show and started what he is calling the Pacifica Campaign.
This is a fund-raising drive outside the station, aimed at
supporting programs without funding Pacifica itself. The foundation
takes 17 percent of funds raised for its operations. Dissidents
point out that Pacifica's use of the funds includes fighting two
listener-sponsored lawsuits as well as the one filed by fired staff.
"Turn off the water," Coughlin said. "Stop the funds from going
The Freight and Salvage audience members appeared somewhat
divided on the question. Some responded by questioning the wisdom of
defunding KPFA, where programmers are not under gag orders. One
member of the Local Advisory Board said she would ask the board to
support the tactic.
Station manager Jim Bennett said Monday, however, that without
station fund-raising, the basic bills would not be paid. He supports
raising only the minimum funds needed to pay the station bills. He
said he believes Pacifica is using other funds, such as interest on
stocks, to pay for costs such as lawyers' fees. More than half of
the 17 percent that goes to Pacifica, supports Democracy Now! and
national news, he said.
Murdock called the campaign "a shame." He said he did not know
how many people had been fired in recent months from WBAI, but "out
of several hundred volunteers and staff, there is remarkably little
Accusations of violence
The Pacifica Foundation has launched its own campaign, a media
initiative to show that the dissenters are practicing violence.
Executive Director Wash broke into programming Monday morning to say
that a female employee at Pacifica's Houston, Texas station had been
assaulted by a demonstrator at an event for the station. Board Chair
David Accosta read a similar message on the air at about 11 a.m.
Calling the Pacifica campaign, a "bitter campaign of
misinformation," a press statement says: "a small group of
dissidents who are attempting to unseat Pacifica's National
Governing Board of Directors has once again been marred by physical
attacks against Pacifica employees." It goes on to talk about
charges "filed against protester Edwin Johnston, a supporter of the
ëPacifica Campaign,í an anti-Pacifica effort aimed at recruiting
Pacifica listeners to not make contributions to Pacifica."
Murdock said Johnston was accused of assault and Houston Police
spokesperson John Leggio confirmed that Johnston had been charged
with a ìclass Cî assault. The complaint alleged that the suspect had
pushed Molly Ganter, relative of station manager Garland Ganter,
yelled in her face and then hit Ganter. There were no injuries
reported, he said.
Leggio likened a class C violation to a parking ticket. The
suspect pays a fine and is not required to go before a judge.
Ganter, who was interim station manager in Berkeley when KPFA
staff and volunteers were locked out of the studio, did not return
Daily Planet phone calls.
Murdock says the alleged attacks were part of the dissidents'
overall tactics of violence. He cited people going into his law firm
and refusing to leave, there have been regular demonstrations at
Murdock's offices in the east and San Francisco. He claimed the
protesters pushed a staffer out of their way, but was unable to say
whether assault charges had been filed. "They show up outside
private residences," he said. Murdock said he agreed with the right
to dissent: "Dissent is a healthy thing, but the right to dissent in
a non-violent manner."
Pacifica spokesperson Angela Jones alleged dissidents had made
late-night phone calls that included a death threat. She declined to
say, however, to whom or by whom the calls had been made, in what
city, or if there is a police record of the calls. Speaking at the
event on Saturday, fired programmer Bernard White waxed
philosophical when speaking about his termination. Quoting Marcus
Garvey, he said: "When all else fails to organize people, conditions