Countering Kéllia

debating listener democracy at KPFA

by Virginia Browning
August 2009

Kéllia Ramares' Commentary in the Planet Aug. 20 calls KPFA's elections “silly” because “a tiny minority of listeners get totally worked up about” them but notes they “do not yield democratic results.”

She goes on to lament the cost of the elections.

In fact, under new national leadership, board meeting costs have been significantly cut. Ballot-mailing costs have been kept quite low while more information is included in voter packets. For a network that brings in many millions of listener dollars, the cost of listener-participation is relatively low.

“Listener democracy” has never actually worked at
Pacifica because it hasn't been allowed. This year, for the first time, the Pacifica stations have actively promoted elections on-air, with violators sanctioned for such as the disinformation or neglect of previous years. Yes, the previous elections were a waste of energy for many of us (not few) who worked hard, only to have our efforts thwarted by reporting one-sided news about them on the air and on Pacifica's websites and list serves.

Where there's a still a loophole a rat will enter, and even before the first on-air candidate event last Saturday, the wily critters began their onslaught of obfuscation, outright lies, whatever it takes to make sure their few chosen luminaries remain in charge.

I believe some of those fighting to prevent "listener democracy" at
Pacifica are doing it because they genuinely believe they must do everything and anything to avert the worst. They know they are lying. "Fair elections" is laughable to them.

Most who have followed events from the beginning and have really considered things carefully realize, however, that despite "democracy's" potential for abuse, the potential is worse without at least trying it.

Why on earth should a radio station be run "democratically?" This is a question I have wanted discussed openly for years, such as in one of the townhall meetings mandated to be organized by this local station board, but which have not been.

If you're promoting, instead, professional management—is KPFA "professional?"

It's easy to find KPFA staff members, asked about their upcoming staff election, who "don't want to get involved." Has management encouraged them to feel their positions are secure? Or do they feel secure only if they appear to toe the line for a minority of staff members convinced only they know what's best at all times. What's inhibiting staff from working in a collaborative manner? Are there regular staff meetings, or is that considered by staff (cued by management) to be another little frill?

"Democracy" is not a simple fix. There is undoubtedly fear of a sudden loss of livelihood by paid staff. I don't remember having heard any board members, in the many years I've attended Local Station Board (LSB) meetings, threatening to ax people outright, though I don't doubt some of the more thoughtless members have done so. Board members are elected by a progressive membership. This being so, there is at least as much potential for large-context visionaries to be there as in a self-selected model. Suggestions to real problems, for example, of some news people who may be burned out and unable to do more than read wire, have included a more open training program for community volunteers.

This year, "Listener Democracy," now that it's finally started working nationally, is being disingenuously touted even by those who prevented it last time. If you think they mean it, check opposing information and VOTE!

Virginia Browning
August 2009

this article was in the Berkeley Daily Planet, Reader Commentaries
Thursday August 27, 2009; minor corrections 8/29/2009