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<nettime> Cockburn on Radio Pacifica


April 26, 1999


Rebellion at Pacifica 

One in five people in America lives within reach of the FM
frequencies of the Pacifica radio network, which consists of
stations in Berkeley, Los Angeles, New York, Washington and
Houston. Indeed, the Los Angeles station, KPFK, has the
strongest signal of any FM station west of the Rockies. It's
one of the last institutions of even vaguely radical
pretensions we have. So, for the past five years the core
mandate of Pacifica has been under attack by establishment
liberals, who have silenced many of the network's most
original voices under brutish conditions that would delight
any corporate axman. Pacifica's bosses have imposed gags,
brought in unionbusters and jimmied the rules so its
governing body of fourteen can preside over the $200-$300
million in Pacifica assets without accountability.

The directorate doesn't like anything that smacks of the
unmanageable. It doesn't like radicalism. It wants
respectable NPR-type stuff. One can construct a decently
plausible scenario that if push comes to shove the
directorate would fire its listeners, thus flashing a final
contemptuous finger at Pacifica's founder, Lewis Hill, who
wrote half a century ago that listener sponsorship was the
foundation stone of Pacifica's notion of freedom. "Since
values and expressions as fundamental as this," Hill wrote,
"are what we must have to improve radio noticeably, there is
no choice but to begin by extending to someone the privilege
of thinking and acting.... Whatever else may happen, we thus
assign to the participating individual the responsibility,
artistic integrity, freedom of expression, and the like,
which in conventional radio are normally denied him. KPFA is
operated literally on this principle."

Oh no it's not. Pacifica is operated like a prison run on
Benthamite principles, in which the directorate levies
ever-thickening slabs of money from member stations, most
particularly WBAI in New York and KPFA in Berkeley; issues
hire-and-fire commands; stipulates silence and obedience.
When Pat Scott was installed as Pacifica's national
executive director in 1995, she speedily threatened all
dissenters, hired unionbusters and made her longer-term goal
the removal of Pacifica's governing board from any
accountability. Her successor, Lynn Chadwick, has been just
as bad. With the active connivance of the governing board,
headed by Mary Frances Berry, she is now trying to flush out
the last vestiges of resistance. Berry herself has played a
despicable role. This professor of American social thought
at the University of Pennsylvania has all the best liberal
credentials. She chairs the Civil Rights Commission. But she
reminds me of another showcase liberal, Marian Wright
Edelman, whose collusive career with power reached shameful
climax with her failure to denounce Clinton's welfare plan
when it first emerged in all its awful contours. At a
meeting this past February in Berkeley, Berry presided over
the alteration in structure that places her and her thirteen
co-directors beyond such accountability to the network's
listeners as still remained. Gently urged to reconsider the
reorganization by stalwart supporters of Pacifica Howard
Zinn, Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman, Berry pooh-poohed
their demurs, suggesting that Zinn was misinformed and
didn't know what he was talking about.

The main player in this context is the Corporation for
Public Broadcasting's president, Robert Coonrod, who came to
CPB in 1992, having formerly been deputy director of the
Voice of America, Office of Cuba Broadcasting (Radio and TV
Marti). Scott, Chadwick, Berry and the rest of the governing
Pacifica gang have connived with him, playing a charade
whereby Pacifica sought "guidance" from Coonrod, asking for
the CPB's view on why Pacifica's structure of governance
should be eliminated, with some pro forma muscle-flexing
from Coonrod about how CPB, which underwrites 14 percent of
Pacifica's budget, might be forced to withdraw funding if
"reforms" weren't implemented.

Of course, any lawyer assigned the task could have dreamed
up a dozen ways of satisfying the CPB while retaining some
form of accountability to listeners by the Pacifica
governing board, but Berry and her accomplices weren't

At the end of March, Chadwick summarily ditched Nicole
Sawaya, KPFA's most popular manager in decades. Sawaya's
dismissal had been scheduled by the directorate at the end
of February because she was not a "team" player and had
stood up to them, particularly over the dumping of Larry
Bensky, probably the network's best-known voice.

Chadwick ordered no on-air discussion of the firing, but
Pacifica's thuggery was too much for many KPFA workers to
swallow. The edict was disobeyed, and the next day Bensky,
Dennis Bernstein (of Flashpoints) and others demonstrated on
a flatbed truck outside the KPFA/Pacifica building in

Now many of KPFA's workers and broadcasters are in open
revolt, and listeners are privy to the turmoil and its
causes. If Berry has guts she will change direction, cut out
the bully tactics and speak to Lewis Hill's vision. If she
sticks to her present course she'll probably think--maybe
she already has--in terms of firing all the mutineers and
the audience as well. How would she do that? She'd bring in
scab professional broadcasters from the stagnant NPR pool
and then, as subscribers drop away, she'd go to the Tides
Center, run by David Salniker, who, in his Pacifica days,
first started the rot. Tides is a pass-through for huge
amounts of money from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Then,
presto! Pacifica and its stations would be creatures of the
foundations, brought to heel just like the environmental

When Samori Marksman, program director of WBAI, died a
couple of weeks ago, Janet Jagan ordered a recess in a
meeting of the Guyanan Cabinet. Cuba sent regrets. Upward of
3,000 attended Samori's funeral. For six days there was no
formal expression of regret from Pacifica's board. Samori
died at the age of 51 from his heart condition only four
days after a long and stressful meeting with Chadwick.

You want to do something? Make your views clear to Berry.
Check out the Web site This
is our radio network.


Background and Related Information

Pacifica Radio
Pacifica Radio network's site has current news, program
information, radio archives and a history of the Pacifica
network. Also posted is a statement by Pacifica's founder,
Lewis Hill, on the goals and values of the Pacifica radio
stations. <>

Free Pacifica
This site documents the position and activities of those
opposed to the changes at the Pacifica Radio network. Allows
visitors to the site to sign the "petition to end the gag
rule at Pacifica," and carries up-to-date documents,
articles, press releases and press clippings on the
controversy at Pacifica. <>

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