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Houston Chronicle

Dec. 12, 2001, 10:08PM

Progressive radio network ends legal fight over decision-making

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 decision-making power.

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 just begun.

2001 San Francisco Chronicle Page A ­ 22

The Washington Post

Settlement Reached at Embattled Pacifica

By Teresa Wiltz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, 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 victory."

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