Dec. 12, 2001, 10:08PM
Progressive radio network ends legal fight over
By HARVEY RICE
Copyright 2001 Houston Chronicle
A long and bitter legal battle at the nation's only progressive
radio network, marked by protests and arrests at Houston's KPFT 90.1
FM, ended Wednesday in an Oakland, Calif., courtroom.
The majority on Pacifica Radio's 15-member national board of
directors reached an agreement settling four combined lawsuits
before California District Judge Ronald Sabraw, said attorney Adam
Belsky, who represented Pacifica listeners and the state of
California in one of the lawsuits.
The settlement requires insurance companies for the 10 majority
members of the board and former board members named in the lawsuits
to pay $400,000 to settle claims that the board mismanaged
Pacifica's assets, Belsky said.
The agreement is a victory for dissidents who filed the lawsuits
to force the board to return decision-making power to local advisory
boards at the network's stations in Houston, Los Angeles, Berkeley,
Calif., New York and Washington, D.C.
Belsky said the settlement forces the board majority, which came
under a relentless attack as it tried to move the network away from
left-leaning comment and information toward more mainstream
programming, to adhere to a plan to restructure the board that was
reached in Washington, D.C., last month.
The majority tried to back away from the plan after it was agreed
to on a unanimous vote, he said, but included the plan in the
settlement after dissidents pressed their lawsuits. "The fear of a
trial brought them back to the table," Belsky said.
The lawsuits essentially accused the national board of violating
Pacifica's charter by stripping the local advisory boards of
KPFT General Manager Garland Gantner twice had protesters
arrested outside his station, where dissidents set up loudspeakers
to blare programs banned by the national board but broadcast through
a guerrilla network.
Dissidents had cited KPFT and WPFW in Washington, D.C. -- both
accused of dumping local news and public affairs in favor of more
music -- as examples of how Pacifica stations should not be run.
Neither Gantner nor a spokesman for the majority board members
could be reached for comment.
The California attorney general, who oversees all nonprofit
corporations in the state, appointed Belsky because he believed the
board violated state law by taking away the local advisory board's
right to vote without their approval.
"The goal is to get the organization back on its feet and correct
the governing bylaws and provide for democratic elections," said
Belsky, referring to Pacifica's shaky financial condition.
An audit of Pacifica's 2000 fiscal year, commissioned by
dissidents, alleged that the network spent about $2 million, or 20
percent of its annual budget, on legal fees.
The agreement reached in court calls for five majority members to
resign and be replaced by members elected by local advisory boards,
and the five minority members to be replaced with members named by
plaintiffs in the lawsuits, Belsky said.
The new interim board will rewrite the bylaws to provide for the
election of a new board within 15 months, he said.
All decisions by the interim board require a two-thirds vote by
those voting and present or a simple majority if there is agreement
by at least one member each from the five members representing the
old majority, the five representing the old minority and the five
representing the local advisory boards.
If neither condition is met but a motion still receives a
majority vote, it will be submitted to the judge, Belsky said.
San Francisco Chronicle
Monday, December 17, 2001
What now for KPFA? AFTER TWO YEARS of bitter legal
wrangling, Pacifica Foundation, the parent company based in
Washington, D.C., has settled four lawsuits brought by local
affiliates against its board of directors. Under the terms of the
settlement, a more representative board will govern for 15 months,
during which it will revise Pacifica's bylaws and resolve a range of
personnel and financial problems.
The relationship between Berkeley's KPFA-FM, a local affiliate,
and the national board, became especially contentious after the
national board fired the station's manager, several programmers and
locked out staffers for 17 days in 1999. Pacifica eventually allowed
staffers to return, but only if they increased the size and
diversity of the station's audience.
Veronica Selver's historical documentary, "KPFA On The Air,"
hints at some of the problems, including a serious identity crisis,
the liberal station now faces.
KPFA has an unusual history. In 1949, a group of pacifists and
conscientious objectors founded a radio station in order to promote
peace in the postwar era. Ever since, KPFA has been known as an
independent station that championed the civil rights and anti-war
movements in the 1950s and 1960s and introduced listeners to some of
the most avant-garde and diverse literary and musical works.
With the increased popularity of National Public Radio, however,
KPFA, which is wholly dependent on listeners for financial support,
has had to compete with a listener-sponsored network that now
accepts corporate underwriting.
Now that Pacifica's grassroots listeners have won back democratic
participation on the national board, they face the formidable task
of reinventing radio stations that will attract a new generation of
listeners. For KPFA and other Pacifica stations, the struggle has
©2001 San Francisco Chronicle Page A 22
The Washington Post
Settlement Reached at Embattled Pacifica
By Teresa Wiltz
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 15, 2001; Page C03
It was war, a not-so-civil war between the "dissidents" and the
"corporate clique," a passionate and protracted legal battle
involving firings and walkouts, pickets and boycotts, shouting
matches, charges of physical violence and death threats.
All over radio. Public radio.
You could call this Pacifica Radio war Left vs. Left:
Progressives scrapping over the future of a tiny radio network seen
by many as broadcasting's last bastion for those who refuse to color
within the lines. (Besides the District's WPFW, the network has
stations in New York, Houston, Los Angeles and Berkeley, Calif.)
And now, after a 2 1/2-year fight over control of the 51-year-old
network, both sides this week agreed on a settlement intended to
resolve the four lawsuits brought against Pacifica management by
listeners, local station advisory boards and Pacifica board members
who defected to the other camp. The "dissidents" had charged the
board of the Pacifica Foundation with destroying any semblance of
"democratic participation" after it stopped allowing listeners a
role in selecting board members.
Under the settlement, the current board of directors, which
includes former D.C. mayor Marion Barry, will step down and an
interim board will be formed for a 15-month transistion period.
Barry was involved in the negotiations that resulted in a new board
selection mechanism: The past members will select five people; five
others will be selected by the plaintiffs; and five more will be
elected by the local advisory boards from the network's stations.
The idea is to create a balanced board represented by all sides in
which a two-thirds majority would rule. In situations in which there
is no clear two-thirds majority, the judge who presided over the
case will determine the outcome.
The interim board will have a number of tasks: To consider
reforms in governing bylaws of the foundation and to conduct new
elections for the local advisory boards, said Greg Craig of Williams
& Connolly, who represented the Pacifica board.
"All this does is change the balance of forces on the board,"
said Juan Gonzalez, one of the members of Pacifica Campaign, the
group that sued the board. "But this doesn't guarantee real reform,
a role in decision-making."
Still, Gonzalez said, "We're ecstatic about it and consider it a
The other side also declared victory. Said Robert Farrell, who
has served as chairman of the Pacifica board: "I'm elated. . . . My
goal was to see if we could bring about a peaceful resolution."
Just last month, a peaceful resolution seemed a long way off.
Management said it wanted to increase listenership by creating more
mainstream programming and by improving the quality of its
broadcasts. Pacifica employees saw management as selling out the
network's mission: to provide a forum for progressive views. Board
members resigned after their homes and businesses were picketed;
some employees said they were physically bullied, some were fired.
Stringers -- freelance journalists from around the world -- stopped
providing content for the networks in protest.
The bitterness of the fight remains fresh for some.
"I think it's a beginning," said Amy Goodman, embattled host of
the network's "Democracy Now!" show. "But we still have to see the
banned and the fired returned at WBAI. We're still banned from the
airwaves at Pacifica."
Goodman said she'd like to see that issue resolved, as well as
the matter of the "stringer strike" in the next week.
Former executive director Bessie Wash, who reported receiving
death threats, some laced with racial epithets, resigned this year.
(Others said she was fired.) Wash, who was not involved in the
settlement negotiations, said she was concerned that the new
arrangements might not be in compliance with the network's bylaws
and therefore might threaten funding.
Indeed, the network still faces considerable problems: It is
heavily in debt and now has to work to regain its listenership.
Given its history, it's not likely that all will be peaceful.
did not return calls seeking comment. "Drama is an integral part
of Pacifica," Farrell said. "It's part of our being. The vision and
the issues that motivate Pacifica, that brand it, are differences of
opinion, debate, discussion. That's what makes us unique."
© 2001 The Washington Post Company