Mostly bad news at KPFA Pacifica

Mostly bad news at KPFA/Pacifica

by Daniel Borgström
October 2022

A lot has been going on at KPFA/Pacifica, much of it bad or not so great. So brace for the bad news.

An election for the LSB (Listener Station Board) was scheduled for this year, but it didn't happen. Pacifica didn't have funds for it. As you probably know, Pacifica is in a dire financial crisis. The situation is not improving. Of the 5 Pacifica stations, KPFA is doing the best, it's surviving, but not doing great. It's not meaningfully increasing the listenership.

Is radio utterly passé? Can this radio network sustain itself? These questions are more than troubling. The current KPFA Local Station Board (LSB) majority seem convinced that the only way to save the animal is to kill it. Kill it? Yes, like the time they petitioned a California court to put the entire network into
receivership. Everyone agrees that the money problem is seriously horrible, but dismantling the network is not the solution. So we differ from the LSB majority on that. As the name of our affinity group -- Rescue Pacifica -- signifies, we are fighting to keep the entire five-station network intact, alive and independent. We have a network, and we need to find ways to keep it. That's where we need to put our creativity.

For just one example, would pouring much more attention into an accessible, interactive community-minded website so threaten the gatekeepers that it can't be done? We've been paying consultants for years to produce something like that, but it doesn't happen.

One more example. KPFA has a journalist, Ann Garrison, who focuses on east Africa and has received the
Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize. This spring Ann raised money on her own (not costing KPFA a penny) and spent two months in Ethiopia and Eritrea -- a war zone and target of U.S. sanctions. Ann's reports were posted in the Black Agenda Report, the GrayZone, and other sites, here, here and here. She was also interviewed on KPFA's Hard Knock Radio and FlashPoints. Nevertheless, this was a sadly missed opportunity for our station, which having a journalist on the ground in a newsworthy area, could have included a soundbite with other brief announcements at the top of the hour. Something like: "We now have a journalist in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Hear her on-the-scene report today at . . ." That is what news outlets do, they announce such things, they play them big, and that is how they work to attract audiences. But KPFA management let this opportunity slip by, only announcing that the station is "Vigilant as always."

Even back in the years before the financial crisis hit there were serious disagreements, but you can imagine what it's like now. The details could fill a book. Here, I'll touch on some highlights.

The General Manager of the last 9 years at KPFA, Quincy McCoy, resigned in August. It was on his watch that
property taxes on KPFA's studio building were left unpaid for over 6 years. After assurances from the majority's appointed Treasurer that KPFA had nothing to do with the 2019 raid to shut down WBAI, he sent $80,000 of KPFA's money to the law firm which was defending the attempted shutdown, without reporting this expense. On leaving KPFA, he designated Antonio Ortiz to be his heir, the next GM. That may be okay for the moment, however it's the LSB's job together with the PNB (Pacifica National Board) and the Executive Director to select and hire the General Manager.

The KPFA board majority liked the former GM and protected him from questions and exempted him from the yearly evaluations. They call themselves the "Protectors," and also use several other names including "New Day" and "Safety Net," and previously "
SaveKPFA" (a name they stole from a respected group of the 1990s). This year they are petitioning the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) to deny a broadcast license renewal for WBAI, the Pacifica sister station in New York. If they succeed, that will cost our network an asset estimated at between $20 and $50 million. Even if Pacifica manages to defeat this destructive petition, there will still be expensive legal costs that our network can ill afford.

It's hard to imagine that KPFA board members would do anything that harmful to the network, but that's what they're attempting. At the LSB meeting of May 21st, we (Rescue Pacifica) warned them that such a request to the FCC could eventually come around to bite KPFA. Nevertheless, the 12 of them who were present voted in support of that petition to deny WBAI's license renewal. And that group calls itself the "Protectors."

This is happening during a growing wave of censorship on Facebook, Twitter, and other electronic media. All independent media -- including KPFA/Pacifica -- are in danger, and I do wonder what the "Protector"/"New Day" people are thinking. They may believe they would be able to get the license back, but that is very far from guaranteed in this atmosphere of multi-billion-dollar "non-profit" religious and NPR networks who have gobbled up a number of stations already.

These "Protectors", are the same ones who (along with then GM McCoy) declined to make a public statement of support for KPFA
journalist Frank Sterling who'd been arrested at a demonstration. For Julian Assange they made a watered down support statement that was practically meaningless but meant to negate Pacifica's statement of support for him.

Right now they are planning to kick Elizabeth Milos off the KPFA board. Although they haven't publicly stated their charges against her yet, the actual reasons seem fairly obvious. Elizabeth can be an effective board member who questions and challenges the "Protectors'" actions. They have scheduled a "trial" for Saturday, October 29th -- to be held in a closed door session. The "Protectors" do have a 2/3rds majority, and it's likely (though not certain) that all of their group will go along with it, as they usually support whatever their leadership wants.

Only a handful of the "Protectors" do all the talking at meetings. Most say nothing at all. Although many have good histories as activists, they seem to leave that behind and become ciphers, stepping into a culture of silent obedience. They must have thoughts of their own, but perhaps they're afraid to say the wrong thing. I watch this drama at the LSB and I can't help wondering if the attack on Elizabeth Milos might be, in part, an exercise in keeping their own people in line?

Elizabeth is a Chilean-American human rights and labor union activist. She's a Spanish/English healthcare interpreter. Unpleasant though the attack on her may be, in a perverse sort of way it's a tribute to her good work as a member of the LSB, her readiness to raise uncomfortable issues and ask questions.

Members of this board are elected by KPFA's listener-subscribers. So, can a faction with a 2/3rds majority expel members of their opposition and thus become a self-selecting board? We don't know yet. This may be a test case, and if they can kick Elizabeth off the board, they're likely to go after more of us.

And while all this is going on, John Vernile, the former executive director of Pacifica who led the
2019 takeover of WBAI -- for which he was fired -- has sued Pacifica for $300,000 for "defamation." Although the judge did not dispute that Vernile was lawfully fired for misconduct, he nevertheless ordered Pacifica to give him $300,000 because the targets of his actions said reproachful things about him. This court ruling is an attack on rights of free speech, and the case is being appealed. If this ruling is allowed to stand, Pacifica would probably be made fair game for endless numbers of lawsuits, presumably forcing the network into bankruptcy. Meanwhile, the chair and vice chair of KPFA's LSB, Christina Huggins and Fred Dodsworth, have demanded that Pacifica cease its appeal. Interestingly, Huggins is one of the persons who asked a Los Angeles court to put Pacifica into receivership; that was in December 2020. This year she played a role in petitioning the FCC to deny WBAI its broadcast license, and of course she's part of the endeavor to kick Elizabeth Milos off the board.

So what's going on here? The big picture seems to be an ongoing plan to break up the Pacifica radio network and grab whatever pieces of it they can. KPFA would be the prize piece. What is at stake are the network and the programming.

Radio is, after all, about radio -- programming. KPFA has lost good programs, and there's a very real danger of losing more. Nevertheless, the good news is that the station continues to have several good, informative programs with in-depth analysis. Among them are Project Censored, the Ralph Nader Hour, East Bay Yesterday, and Mitch Jeserich's history shows. On Fridays Richard Wolf, a Marxist economist, gives his Economic Update. Every weekday afternoon there are Hard Knock Radio and Flashpoints.

Meanwhile, sadly, some programmers are increasingly echoing corporate media, others do it some of the time, particularly on the war in the Ukraine--and when we hear that security state NATO propaganda, it can seem like the whole station is full of it. But there is still a lot of good stuff on KPFA that continues to be worth listening to -- at least as of now. KPFA's good programming needs to be defended. Or it will be gone.

Yes, I know, much of this newsletter sounds discouraging, but I think it's necessary to tell it like it is. This is what we're up against and we need to recognize that. And as we look around at the state of the socialist left today, these anti-democratic, anti-free speech tendencies seem to be frighteningly representative of what's going on. One positive and encouraging thing is that we do have dedicated people, here at KPFA and also at the other four Pacifica stations, who are struggling to support our independent news analysis -- our antiwar, anti-imperialist voice, plus our nonprofit representative democratic governance which Pacifica needs to have, and is in fact needed to maintain the public service all radio was originally intended to be.

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KPFA 94.1 FM is one of five stations of the Pacifica radio network located in major cities across the country. The other stations are WBAI 99.5 in New York, WPFW 89.3 in Washington, DC, KPFT 90.1 in Houston, and KPFK 90.7 in Los Angeles. There are also about 250 affiliate stations.

Rescue Pacifica affiliated members of the KPFA Local Station Board are: Adisa Armand, Daniel Borgström, James McFadden, Elizabeth Milos, Christine Pepin, Frank Sterling, Tom Voorhees.

Member of the KPFA Local Station Board

October 2022

DISCLAIMER: This is not an official Pacifica Foundation website nor an official website of any of the five Pacifica Radio Stations (KPFA Radio, KPFK Radio, KPFT Radio, WBAI Radio, WPFW Radio). Opinions and facts alleged on this site belong to the author(s) of the website only and should NOT be assumed to be true or to reflect the editorial stance or policy of the Pacifica Foundation, or any of the five Pacifica Radio Stations (KPFA Radio, KPFK Radio, KPFT Radio, WBAI Radio, WPFW Radio), or the opinions of its management, Pacifica National Board, station staff or other listener members.