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Frequently Asked Questions About the Pacifica Campaign
By Juan Gonzalez | April 14, 2001

  1. Pacifica has always been beset by internal conflicts. Isn't this just the latest example of that?
  1. No. The current crisis has no precedent in Pacifica1s history. It has been in the making for more than five years and has gradually engulfed every part of the network. It has led to a series of what can only be called political purges of scores of the network1s best journalists and to repeated examples of censorship at all the stations.
  1. What makes this crisis so different?
  1. First, it occurs at a time when the mass media -- even public radio and television -- are increasingly under the control or sway of giant multinational corporations, and as popular movements against those corporations have swelled in size and strength. Even though megamedia companies became ubiquitous in recent years with their attempts to shape the public's political and social consciousness and with their constant spreading of hedonistic consumerism, until now Pacifica has managed to emerge as an all-important counterforce. While others even in public radio scramble to reach a more homogeneous and economically well-off listener base, the best journalists at Pacifica were demonstrating the viability of creating intelligent radio for working class and third world communities. The network's future as a forum for radical, pro-labor, anti-racist, anti-sexist news and culture is now in serious question. Second, the problem is not that Pacifica has descended into irrelevance as Mr. David Giovannoni, one of those corporate radio consultants hired by Pacifica, asserted last year. Rather the problem is the nework's growing relevance vis-a-vis the new people1s anti-globalization here and around the world. Whether it was East Timor or the war in Kosovo, the WTO or the IMF meetings, genetically modified foods or hard-hitting reports on the Abner Louima police brutality case, Pacifica programming has repeatedly helped to shape the national debate about major issues of our time. Meanwhile, the revolution in technology represented by the Internet and by digital broadcasting have allowed Pacifica to expand its listenership far beyond the bounds of its five member stations to a global audience of progressive activists. Third, the Pacifica battle is being watched with fascination by journalists throughout the United States. By opposing corporate influence and defending the widest possible definition of free speech our movement is providing inspiration to thousands of journalists, and to hundreds of thousands of listeners who have lost hope of ever changing the content or direction of their media institutions. For all of thesse reasons, this crisis and the battle around it have no precedent.
  1. How did this corporate clique get control of the board?
  1. As the documents here show, this was a gradual process that began in the mid 1990s but whose roots go back even farther. We did not get to this point solely because of a few bad apples on the board. The move to eliminate democracy at Pacifica has been steady and insidious through the regimes of three different executive directors, Pat Scott, Lynn Chadwick, and now Bessie Wash. It has gone on despite massive changes in the national boards. In fact, it could be seen as an unholy alliance of three different trends and of the individuals associated with those trends:

    1. The federal government's move to increasingly muzzle radical publc broadcasting, as evinced by how individuals who at one time worked for government propaganda operations such as Voice of America are now occupying key executive positions at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and even NPR.
    2. The impact of the corporate marketing strategies and the pressure to professionalize community radio promoted by such neo-liberal radio executives as Pat Scott and Lynn Chadwick.
    3. The simple naked desire to make a quick buck in the glitzy world of broadcasting through the partnerships, brokering or legal fees involved in the buying or selling of station licenses. But one thing is clear, as the documents here show: the initial decision by the corporate clique at Pacifica to change the bylaws and eliminate the role of Local Advisory Boards in selecting National Board members came only after Pacifica sought and got the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to intercede and threaten a cut-off of funding. Board member John Murdock's proposed bylaws would go even further. They would require Pacifica to abide by all future requirements of CPB, no matter how onerous, thus forever making Pacifica into an obedient stepchild of a quasi-governmental body which provides only a small percentage of the network's funding.
  1. Why a boycott of donations to Pacifica? Won't that just propel the board of directors to sell a station even faster?
  1. A funding boycott is the only way every Pacifica listener can vote on the policies of the current board. It is the most democratic vehicle available under the current conditions. As matters stand now, listeners are financing the gradual destruction of their own network. The only way the board can be slowed in its assault is through a boycott. A successful boycott will not destroy or break up the network. Selling a station license is easier said than done. By FCC regulations, Pacifica must give public notice of its intention to sell any station, and there must be a period of time for public reaction. If there is a challenge by listeners to the sale, there must be a hearing held by the FCC. In addition, because there are currently three court suits in California challenging the legitimacy of the Pacifica board, any announcement of an intention to sell would likely lead to new requests for temporary restraining orders pending resolution of those court cases. In addition, we should not fear the mere threat to sell a station. Our movement has already forced the board to publicly renounce any intention to sell. However, if the board were to change its mind such an announcement would rally immense community oposition, and any sale could then be delayed or stalled in court for months or years. In the meantime, a boycott that seriously reduces income will hamper the board's ability to keep paying the legal fees of Epstein & Becker as well as for security guards, public relations experts and other expenditures. At the same time, an escalating campaign of direct action geared at the individual board members will continute to pressure for their resignation. Once the board members are out, our movement will have grown so strong that it will be capable of raising back even more money to rebuild the network -- but only as a people1s network.
  1. Can't Pacifica borrow money against the value of its licenses to temporarily defray lost income from the boycott?
  1. No. The FCC has already ruled that broadcast station owners cannot borrow money against the value of their licenses, since those licenses are granted by the federal government and are not the same as normal private property that can be used as collateral for loans.
  1. What if Pacifica resorts to corporate donations or right-wing philanthropists to make up its lost revenues?
  1. Our campaign cannot prevent the Pacifica Board from looking for funds wherever it wants. But anywhere that an institution seek funds brings consequences. If the board were to go after outright corporate funding, it would undoubtedly lead to more conservative programming, which in turn would lead to even greater listener and staff opposition, and a greater loss of listener donations. What the board should do, if it genuinely believes in its mission, is redouble its efforts to convince listeners to give more money to the network. But if it chooses to give up on its listeners and look for funding from right-wing sources, then better that it do so now when our opposition movement is stronger. In other words, we must not allow the Pacifica Board to dictate the terms of struggle or the time for a final showdown.
  1. What if Pacifica begins laying off staff?
  1. This is certainly possible once the boycott seriously hurts fundraising. But the individual stations already operate at skeleton levels. Most of the work is now done by volunteers, which means there is little left to cut. While we do not welcome layoffs, we believe Pacifica that the Pacifica national office has been siphoning off too much of the network1s revenues while producing little of it. In 1977, only 1.5% of programming by member stations came from the Pacifica national office, and that office only took 3% of what the stations raised to finance its operations. At the time, there were only 3 full-tiime employees at the national office. By 1999, the national office produced barely 5% of the programs aired by the local stations, yet it was taking in more than 17% of all funds raised, and it employed more than 17 people. In other words, the central bureaucracy mushroomed while Pacifica barely increased national programming -- and since then the amount of such programming has actually decreased. In addition, the PNN news, one of the only national programs left, raises no money during fund drives. It is the only program exempted from seeking donations. We believe that if any layoffs do occur because of cash shortages produced by the listener boycott they should begin at the top-heavy the national office. But if layoffs of full-time staff at the local stations do occur, we will make every effort at the Pacifica Campaign to provide financial assistance to laid off workers. We remain convinced that those layoffs will not be of long duration because our creative pressure campaign willbe successful in forcing force board resignations before mass layoffs occur.
  1. If the Pacifica board has resisted several years of pressure, what makes you think this new corporate campaign will have any effect?
  1. Until now the movement against the Pacifica board has been widespread but somewhat diffused. No clear, consistent strategy has been formulated, and the tactics have not been devised to bring about a successful conclusion in the shortest time possible. In addition, those fighting Pacifica have been doing so on a part-time basis. What we are doing with the Pacifica Campaign is putting together a full-time core of organizers and the resources to wage an all-out political assault against the Pacifica board. We are responding to the board1s attempt to consolidate its power by going on the offensive. We are moving from a drawn-out low-intensity conflict to an all-out listener uprising. We do so because we are convinced that many of Pacifica1s loyal listeners are veteran activists who know what it means to sacrifice and battle for just causes. The corporate clique on the board, on the other hand, has rarely experienced high-intensity political battles. The more heat we bring to bear on them the more likely they will crack under the pressure, and the more likely they will resign.
  1. Will a direct action campaign against individual board members hurt the chance of success in the legal suits against Pacifica?
  1. No. There has always existed a certain tension in the progressive movement in America between action in the courts and action in the streets. The two approaches are not mutually exclusive, and both are often necessary. But exclusive reliance on the courts is a huge mistake, as William Kunstler, the most famous radical lawyer of our times, often remarked. We only need look at what the courts did to the Florida presidential vote to remind us that the most important judicial decisions are often determined by the political balance of forces outside the courtroom. A massive, well-organized and militant movement increases the chances of success in the courts. But while the movement should be militant, it must also remain peaceful, and personal pressure should never turn into personal harassment of board members.
  1. Are you calling for the resignation of the entire board of directors? And what good will resignations do? Won't they just appoint their cronies as replacements?
  1. We recognize that a minority of six dissident board members have consistently opposed the policies of the corporate clique on the board, and we support the efforts of those dissidents. Our campaign aims at forcing the resignations of the board1s majority. But since the entire board will have to be restructured, we envision that even those dissidents might have to eventually resign to pave the way for a new board of directors, or some transitional caretaker board. The dissidents, in fact, could play a crucial role in that transition. At the same time, we are not just seeking to change faces. We are clear that the current board must be replaced by one that is democratically accountable to the listeners, staffs and local communities in which the stations operate. The obvious corollary to restructuring the national board is making election of the local advisory boards democratic. But the Pacifica Campaign does not see its mission as developing a plan or scheme for those new democratic structures. We trust that the overall Pacifica reform movement of which we are only one part will eventually decide on those structures.
  1. What about the statements issued by two locals of AFTRA condemning the boycott?
  1. Pacifica says they prove that the network's labor unions recognize that the board is pro-labor; the PNN news even broadcasts each night that it is a union shop of the AFL-CIO. What is your response? Our boycott is a listener (or consumer) boycott, not an employee action. We do not need nor have we sought the support of the unions within Pacifica to organize it. We recognize that even if some employees within the network are opposed to the National Board1s policies, their union contracts and their conditions of employment do not permit them to actively engage in boycott activities. But no one should be fooled by Pacifica1s propaganda about its union-friendly environment. The company has already been judged guilty of unfair labor practices by the National Labor Relations board in contract negotiations several years ago. The law firm employed by Pacifica, Epstein, Becker & Green is a notorious union-busting firm. A United Electrical Workers local that represents the WBAI staff recently condemned the anti-labor actions of Pacifica during the 2000 Christmas Coup, when union shop steward Sharan Harper and several other union members were fired or banned without cause and without due process. AFTRA continues to represent Democracy Now host Amy Goodman in several grievances she has filed over gender-based and racist harassment by management and staff. The statement from the national programming unit's staff that condemned the boycott should be examined more carefully. The vote on it was 7-to-1. Amy Goodman was the lone opposition vote. That statement, however was distributed by Pacifica management to the public several hours before Goodman received a called from her union shop steward asking for her to vote! That clearly suggests that management was directly involved in a so-called internal union decision. This is not the first time Pacifica has attempted to orchestrate employee or union solidarity in an effort to confuse the public. It pulled off a similar ploy at KPFK in Los Angeles in 1999, when Marc Cooper and some other staff members organized an employee letter to former Chairwoman Mary Frances Berry condemning the Local Advisory Board for initiating a law suit against the Foundation -- a letter staff members at KPFK were intimidated into signing. Furthermore, the Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. units of AFTRA claim they are concerned about the threats to union jobs from the boycott. But why has AFTRA so far not condemned the very real jobs already lost by unionized staff at WBAI in New York or other Pacifica stations? Why has it failed to condemn the atmosphere of intimidation and repeated bannings and censorship that has become routine throughout the network?
  1. What about Pacifica1s repeated allegation that much of the opposition to the national board, to Bessie Wash, and to WBAI interim manager Utrice Leid, results from racism -- from resistance by whites to blacks in positions of authority who want to diversify the audience of the network?
  1. Pacifica management is using accusations of racism to mask its authoritarian and bourgeois takeover. Most of the key individuals fired or banned during the Christmas coup at WBAI were African-Americans, including station manager Valerie van Isler, program director Bernard White, union shop steward Sharan Harper, Wake-up Call producer Janice K. Bryant. Since then, other people of color have been among those removed or forced to resign from shows in protest over censorship, or they have been banned from the station altogether, including Juan Gonzalez, Robert Knight, Deepa Fernandez and Mario Murillo. At other Pacifica stations, specifically in Los Angeles and Houston, staff and programs geared to the African-American, Latino and Asian communities have been severely curtailed. In New York City, interim manager Utrice Leid has opted for a particularly nefarious strategy of stoking tensions between the African-American community on the one hand and the city's English-speaking Caribbean and African community on the other. Leid has accused white employees like the popular Amy Goodman of being a svengali who is manipulating other black people to oppose strong black women -- presumably like Leid. Yet when a group of black women picketed in front of Leid1s Brooklyn home to condemn her divisive tactics, she was furious, even accusing veteran host Grandpa Al Lewis, of organizing the protest. Lewis, who is white, knew nothing about the protest until it was reported in a local newspaper. In Washington, D.C., which has seen its black and white population decline while the Latino and Asian population has skyrocketed, Pacifica has built WPFW into a virtually all-jazz station with its predominant listener base among suburban upscale blacks. In fact, the station does very little local reporting of news and information relevant to the inner city. In short, while Pacifica claims it wants to diversify its audience, in Los Angeles, Houston, New York and Washington, it has increasingly narrowed its focus on what listeners it wants to reach. The only common denominator in this trend seems to be a rush for an upscale audience, of whatever race the local station manager chooses. In other words, we are confronting a class struggle which has disguised itself as a struggle for black empowerment. The Pacifica board, contrary to Pacifica1s mission of fostering greater understanding between races, is pursuing a ruthless policy of fomenting divisions between racial and ethnic groups in each city.
  1. Why are there so many different reform groups in the Pacifica struggle? Can't you all unite and create one fund, a sort of escrow fund for the restoration of Pacifica?
  1. The movement around Pacifica has grown tremendously in recent years. There are literally dozens of groups that sprang up in different parts of the country. Until now, the movement has been largely spontaneous and autonomous, much as the five Pacifica stations were. At first, few activists saw the connection with what was happening from one station to another. Many programmers were so engrossed in their own shows that they ignored the growing cancer within the network. A variety of approaches, from legal actions to demonstrations, to a stringer's strike, and now a boycott, have marked the different groups. At the Pacifica Campaign we believe the movement will have to become more unified, but we recognize that bringing the various groups under one umbrella will take much work and planning. In the meantime, we are fostering cooperation between the groups. We must grasp that this is indeed a movement, not an organization, and like most movements it encompasses a multitude of trends.

    We in the Pacifica Campaign have taken on only one part of the fight, and we encourage all listeners and Pacifica staff to get involved. A national escrow fund would be a terrific idea, but that fund can only be established once the various groups have built someworking unity through the process of battling the Pacifica board, and once a transparent and democratic structure for the management of that fund is agreed upon.