August 25, 1999 - Transcript

Flashpoints Interview with Mimi Rosenberg
Local Advisory Board Member for WBAI in New york
Rebroadcast Aug. 26 on Living Room
Listen to RealAudio of segment

Kris Welch: Welcome back to Living Room. "KPFA is in grave jeopardy." "Something is up." These are quotes from a staffer at our sister station in New York, WBAI, after she was part of a meeting with Pacifica Board Chair Dr. Mary Frances Berry, the other day. Mimi Rosenberg spoke with Dennis Bernstein and C.S. Soong on last evening's Flashpoints program and we wanted to share her report on the latest developments with Pacifica with you here on living room so here it is....

Dennis Bernstein: And we're back. You're listening to Flashpoints on KPFA. This is Dennis Bernstein with C.S. Soong. And we're now joined by Mimi Rosenberg, old friend and colleague of mine from WBAI, she's now on the local advisory board there. She's the Unpaid Staff Rep to that advisory board She is also the long time producer of "Building Bridges: a Community and Labor Report or Your Community Labor Report" since 1968. The local advisory board has just voted to call for the resignation of Mary Frances Berry and Lynn Chadwick and actually, Mimi Rosenberg, you had an opportunity to sit along with other staff members to question and speak with Dr. Berry. What was that like? What did you learn?

Mimi Rosenberg: Well I think the first thing that needs to be commented on is the stealth manner in which the meeting took place.

DB: Sure

MR: I was an innocent bystander, if you will, who was merely dropping a tape off at the station and discovered that Mary happened to be there. It was very clear that the arrival was not intended to be announced which is part of the methodological problem of not wanting to have open forums where there is really equal communication and dialoguing with the staff and with the board with the listeners.

So while it is true that Mary was there, it had not been previously announced; indeed it had been kept secret and perhaps is representative of some of the problem that is going on in general -- which is certainly a hierarchical approach to governance.

The most salient thing that is perhaps relevant to your audience and I guess [inaudible] Mary came in full armor plate wielding a sword. A degree of antagonism and personalization and rancor and antipathy existed to the total programming entity of Pacifica that I was not fully prepared to deal with. Where this relates to KPFA is that she mentioned, in terms that caused me great concern, that the only mistake that she had made -- I was fishing desperately for some contrition or some ability to create a dialogue -- but the only things that was said, the only mistake was that she had not acted sooner and in a more harsh and restrictive manner to stop the guerilla -- which was an interesting and unfortunate word for her to use -- tactics of the total staff at KPFA. And it was said with such hostility and an internalized hostility that it was a bit frightening.

 She further enunciated that under no conditions, when there were some complaints made about the KU band and inability for Democracy Now, of course one of the flagship national programs, to be heard by the affiliates etcetera, because the competency is sorely lacking in the way that it is being run now that it has been taken out of California, she mentioned that under no condition would she ever return it to California, the national office to California or indeed anything to that area of Berkeley, which is all that the KPFA staff concerns itself with.

And indeed, sadly to say, indicted, which again causes me grave concern, that she felt it was an irredeemable circumstance that had unfolded with KPFA and then queried us -- which is an incredible thing -- on how we would feel if numerous stations of a smaller nature were purchased and there was a voice given in Atlanta and throughout the south, etc. versus the maintenance of the signal the frequency, the license in California. She refers to California only as the area of Berkley as if that is the only concern that my colleagues in KPFA have

DB: do you take that as "Hey lets sell the frequency, buy smaller stations somewhere else and forget this area?"

MR: It, as I said, concerned me gravely. I would take it as a signal that KPFA is in grave jeopardy. Either she is, and noone else on the board is telling us what is up, but something is up. Her antipathy to KPFA is such that she was certainly fielding the issue of a sale. And let me be very clear that even our station manager -- who we are at odds with on many important labor issues etc. -- was unequivocally clear that the breakup of the five station confederation would be a disaster that was unacceptable and that these stations were gifts to the public and not assets to be used, sold, played with bartered with by a group of individuals that had no advise and consent and no accountability in effect to anyone at this juncture. But it was a of grave concern.

As to WBAI, there is some indication that there may be some quasi form of receivership that she will place us in. She acknowledged sending in a team -- and was deliberately not more explicit -- a team to evaluate WBAI -- but it was very clear that she is, I think, first and foremost, not cognizant of the content of the stations which she rules.

She really had little to no idea of the nature of our programming -- and issues in many ways -- and I dare say -- and it would seem chauvenizing to say this, but it was pitifully true -- that she seemed to know little or nothing about the Washington station, the Texas station, made terrible slurs, slanderous comments about KPFA and was similarly unknowledgeable about the work that is done at WBAI and made such ludicrous comments such as -- she sat in room that was 90% people of color and asked -- "were we aware of the diversity of populations that exist in the new York area?" -- which particularly given the coloration of the people there but also their background of activism and there age and maturity, and was so chauvenizing and unwarranted.

So I remained terribly concerned that despite protestations about the sale, when someone is queried about a 501 c3 not-for-profit corporation allowing not one, but several of its members, to openly advocate and begin investigation into the sale of or floating a loan against the license and those people are maintained on the board and not repudiated, that concerns me.

Mary also made what I thought was a startlingly immature comment that consisted of "If you want me to stay, I will go. But the minute you ask me to go I am here forever." That kind of personalization and immaturity does a terrible disservice to the issues that now abound.

Dr. Berry was similarly queried on why the issue of civil rights did not extend to the way station's personnel was treated, for example into New York. Why we have not had a labor contract in 2 years, why there was an appeal, that cost ten's of thousands of dollars, to a National Labor Relation's Board decision that gave us the right to maintain paid and unpaid staff in a collective bargaining unit...

Why were they appealing that? Didn't that engender issues of civil rights? Dr. Berry was both miffed and essentially ignored the question.

When people also suggested that despite her protestations of a brand history in civil rights advocacy, that she had been repeatedly asked in 1996 when Clinton was getting ready to sign the "Welfare Reform and Reconstruction Act" -- 60 years of the social safety net -- why she had failed to speak up and become a champion and an advocate for the indigent in our society and again, she failed to respond or acknowledge that there was an inconsistency in her claim of civil rights and diversity and actions in many spheres.

C.S. Soong: Did Dr. Berry , and by the way we're talking about a meeting between Dr. Mary Frances Berry, Pacifica board chair and certain staff members at WBAI yesterday -- a meeting as Mimi Rosenberg , you are saying -- was kind of stealth in nature -- that a lot of people did not know about it and Mimi only was able to attend because she happened to be at the station. Did Dr. berry address at all the concerns of greater democratization within Pacifica , opening up the books, the demands to make Pacifica more accountable and responsive to its various communities on financial and other matters.

MR: I can answer it like she does -- "Yes and no!"

What I mean by that is Mary claims that there is fiscal responsibility, accountability and the books are an open record -- merely turn into the Pacifica web site ( either I am extremely bad at the use of technology and have been unable to locate that fiscal data on the web site. As a board member for four years now, for both Pat Scott before and Dr. Berry now, we have been asking for accurate information that shows us where the different stations monies are being spent. But she maintains that that information is available on the Pacifica web site, which is clearly not accurate.

In terms of democratization, she mentioned one issue which I think is also a diversion -- and that is -- look to your own house -- what democracy exists in the local boards, you do not have elections...

At that juncture it was pointed out to her that actually, certainly in New York, elections don't necessarily represent, as we well know in our society, democracy. If anything we have a better system of proportional representation in a structure that permits anyone who wishes to act on the board on a project to become a member to play a full and equal role. So that in effect, we are but we continued to look at that issue, expand our membership, our participation, our egalitarianism, and that it was inadequate to look somewhere else.

She then heard several proposals that our board had been floating which were to have a radio millennium, international conference that would flush out all of the issues of fiscal development and accountability, technologizing, content, audience development, and develop what doesn't exist now -- a consensus about a Five Year Plan, despite the way of the world with five year plans in general, but a five year plan that would actually do something that the current one doesn't which is merely a booster document -- but that would have some guidelines, some criteria of a political nature that would help us forge ahead in the next 50 years.

But I would say first and foremost, it is clear that by I believe, and I hate to say this, by personality and demeanor as well as politics, that Dr. Berry is not terribly receptive to ideas of inclusion.

DB: I'm going to have to cut you off right there because we're out of time, but you know, Mimi Rosenberg, we want to bring you back and we want to continue this dialogue, it's obviously important to all of us believers in free speech radio I thank you for joining us on short notice.

MR: I applaud my colleagues out at KPFA and the listeners

DB: Thanks