National Effort to
Save Pacifica Radio By Judith Scherr Daily Planet Staff
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.
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 WBAI.
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.
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.
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 to Pacifica.*
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 turnover.*
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
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
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 will.*