The "Gag Rule"

Terry Goodman critiques an accusation that Pacifica imposed a "Gag Rule" on KPFA. The attack was made by the CL/SaveKPFA group in an article titled Pacifica censors own journalists, spends $30K on anti-union lawyers. It's on the website; like most articles on that website, the author is anonymous

CL/SaveKPFA: Another gag rule has been handed down by KPFA's parent network Pacifica, as KPFA host Mitch Jeserich tried to bring listeners a discussion of what is happening at Free Speech Radio, reports

Terry Goodman: The claim of a "gag rule" seems intentionally misleading. Historically in Pacifica, a "gag rule" was a general policy applying to all programs or programmers. The reference here is to management killing a planned story and apparently placing restrictions on a single programmer and program. Restrictions on Jeserich's editorial independence may certainly be worthy of complaint, but calling it a new "gag rule" trivializes the policy declarations of the past that extended to all programs, including those produced by unpaid personnel. is known to manipulate facts. The word "reports" in place of "claims" in the above quoted paragraph implies a greater reliability than this particular source has earned.

CL/SaveKPFA: This comes on top of news that Pacifica has spent $30,000 of KPFA's funds on anti-union consultants.

Terry Goodman: This claim seems intentionally misleading. The term "anti-union consultants" can appropriately apply to firms hired to prevent threatened unionization or to assist in breaking or replacing a union that is in place, but it mischaracterizes the role of employer attorneys in labor law litigation just as "anti-employer consultants" would mischaracterize the role of the attorneys for any union filing a complaint with the NLRB.

That Pacifica incurs legal expenses whenever claims are filed against it isn't news, nor is the fact that such expenses are billed back to an individual station when station-related. The "anti-union consultants" claim made this a manufactured story, but that the LSB Treasurer received prompt disclosure of the details behind an expense item in KPFA's financial reporting was encouraging.

CL/SaveKPFA: In November, after illegally laying off Morning Show staff,

Terry Goodman: Pacifica disputes the claim of illegal layoffs and must protect itself against such claims. When layoffs are more expensive than anticipated due to union complaint and accompanying legal expenses, additional layoffs may be required to make up the deficit this creates.

CL/SaveKPFA: The week before, Core disciplined News co-director Mark Mericle for airing a story reporting that KPFA was laying off News anchor John Hamilton, saying that Mericle should not have used the word "layoff." Core also disciplined Hamilton and Jeserich for mention of the layoff, even as listeners called in record donations in support of the News. | KPFA News report

Terry Goodman: This claim seems very confused and/or misleading. A pitch break during the California News reported that Hamilton was being "fired" rather than laid off, and that misstatement is likely what prompted the "discipline" of correction. It was not reported that Hamilton was being bumped by Brian Edwards-Tiekert's delayed exercise of his seniority rights under the union agreement, but that detail would have revealed a net zero change in department staffing and so undercut the effectiveness of the pitch.

CL/SaveKPFA: Management's current undermining of editorial independence runs counter to KPFA's own long-standing news policy, which states the News will report "on matters regarding KPFA, Pacifica, its personnel or Board of Directors with the same vigor and candor as it would report on other institutions or individuals."

Terry Goodman: Layoffs should not be reported as firings. Such misreporting is unfair to both employer and employee. KPFA does not have any policy that endorses such blatant inaccuracy in newscasts or even pitch breaks.

The story of $30,000+ in legal fees was reported with vigor and candor on the California News Thursday evening at about 45 minutes into the newscast. It was not, however, reported that the need for these legal expenses was prompted by the KPFA union's complaint of "illegal" layoffs at the station.

CL/SaveKPFA: Attacks on KPFA journalists also have come from a group of board members affiliated with Tracy Rosenberg.

Terry Goodman: This vague and unsupported assertion seems purely malicious political spin. Defenseless KPFA journalists are not being crushed by the unprovoked assaults of rampaging board members. This "group of board members affiliated with Tracy Rosenberg" is probably a reference to the opposition Delegate slate or to the set of LSB Members or PNB Members that recognized the need for layoffs at KPFA. The "KPFA journalists" is probably a reference to the author's preferred delegate slate or to some laid off workers. The "attacks" are probably either a reference to typical Pacifica debate among slates or an attempt to blame opposition governance members for Pacifica management's implementation of KPFA's required layoffs.

CL/SaveKPFA: KPFA's own local station board passed a resolution in March 2010 defending KPFA journalists' rights to cover internal issues with "the same editorial autonomy they enjoy when reporting on external issues." The vote was 14-7, and the 7 voting against were aligned with Rosenberg's board faction -- the group at Pacifica national that hired and now protects Arlene Engelhardt.

Terry Goodman: This claim seems very confused and/or misleading. The group that hired Engelhardt is the all-volunteer (but 1/4 staff) Pacifica National Board. The Pacifica National Board is not "at Pacifica national" except on paper, since it is comprised of radio station and affiliate representative Directors from across the country (including four Directors from KPFA). "Pacifica National" normally refers to the Foundation offices in Berkeley and/or the skeleton staff still working in those offices after national layoffs several years ago. In most circumstances nowadays, "Pacifica National" is just a joint term for the Executive Director and the Chief Financial Officer, who share National Office supervisory responsibilities.

It's the PNB that can fire the Executive Director. If a PNB majority is preventing a PNB minority from driving away yet another Pacifica Executive Director without good cause, what they are probably "protecting" is the Pacifica Foundation.

March 18, 2011
*** *** ***

Terry Goodman served Pacifica in a variety of volunteer, staff, and management roles at KPFK and KPFT in the 1970's. He was elected twice to the office of KPFK Delegate following Pacifica's governance democratization, and those terms included service as Secretary of the National Finance Committee and Chair of the PNB Elections Committee, among various local positions.

Goodman is an outspoken and controversial internet list commentator on Pacifica affairs (especially Mission and Bylaws related issues), but is sufficiently recognized for fairness and personal integrity to have continued service as parliamentary advisor to some KPFK Chairs and as Teller for most KPFK area board elections. Though based in the Los Angeles area, he maintains perspective on the affairs at other stations and at Pacifica National through list participation, private correspondence, and by devouring posted documents and media files.

Goodman's opinions are sometimes informed by broad study and a variety of experiences in law, business, politics, psychology, sociology, technology, and broadcasting. He authored a rather comprehensive but admittedly biased examination of Pacifica issues in 2006, which may be found on the bottom half of the page at
Pacifica Issues

*** *** ***

Also by Terry Goodman:

The Layoffs at KPFA
by Terry Goodman

The claim that station layoffs were somehow orchestrated by Tracy Rosenberg is fraudulent.

The current union agreement includes clauses that allow some management flexibility in the application of its seniority provisions. Pacifica Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt received legal advice from Pacifica's Counsel regarding the proper interpretation of these provisions and then discussed the layoff options available under the agreement with various members of KPFA management, staff, and governance before finally announcing her personnel decisions. KPFA's Station Representative Directors at the time were invited by the ED to participate in a private discussion of the issues, and Tracy Rosenberg was one of those Directors.

Rosenberg is an effective persuader when she has an opinion on something, but the "hit list" email claimed to exist by in connection with this governance member consultation was never produced, so was probably pure fabrication. In any case, the Executive Director's decisions were her own. When provided the opportunity, Engelhardt has explained her rationale for specific KPFA staff cuts in detail, justifying them as best for the station given the PNB-mandated KPFA staff expense reduction and the limits to layoff flexibility imposed by the union agreement. Recognizing imbalance at KPFA compared to other Pacifica stations in the large KPFA allocation of salaries to air talent, she sought and accomplished cost-saving remedy with a minimum disruption of the KPFA broadcast schedule.

Although popular show exclusions might have been negotiated by the union if it had proposed anything of the sort during the year or more that the implementation of necessary KPFA layoffs was delayed, no such option was on the table when the Executive Director decided to intervene on an emergency basis in correction of persistent and repeated KPFA local management budgeting failures and a projected near-immediate problem in meeting the station's payroll. Any "KPFA Morning Show" exemption to staff cuts on the basis of its good fund-raising record would clearly have violated the general intent of layoff provisions in the KPFA union agreement.

In seeking reasonable compliance with its legal obligations under contract, it is perhaps worth noting that Pacifica clearly decided *not* to "target" employees for layoff on the basis of any predicted inability by them to rally listener support or to raise a stink with their allies. Certainly some staff at KPFA may see Engelhardt's or Rosenberg's continuing refusal to be bullied by smears, propaganda and distortions as a threat to their faction's continuing attempts to capture and secure perpetual local dominance at the station. So they should; but demonstrated resistance by individuals to political manipulation after the fact is surely not evidence of any earlier impropriety.

--Terry Goodman


Labels: , , , , , , ,