FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 19, 1999
TWELVE FILE SUIT ON BEHALF OF PACIFICA LISTENERS
Santa Rosa, California -- Long-time Pacifica radio listener-sponsors are heading to court. Today, twelve plaintiffs representing listener-sponsors of KPFA in Berkeley, KPFK in Los Angeles, KPFT in Houston, WPFW in Washington, D.C., and WBAI in New York, took the first step in their suit to remove the Board of Directors of the Pacifica foundation for breach of a charitable trust.
Pacifica Foundation's Executive Director, Lynn Chadwick, was served today with copies of legal documents requesting the California Attorney General to grant the twelve listener-sponsors standing to sue the Pacifica Foundation in Quo Warranto on behalf of the public interest. The California Attorney General has the responsibility to oversee California nonprofit corporations, including the Pacifica Foundation. Pacifica now has 15 days to appear before the Attorney General and show cause why the case should not proceed to court.
The plaintiffs are Carol Spooner, Amburn R. Hague, and Barbara MacQuiddy of Northern California for KPFA listener-sponsors; John Biello, Carolyn Birden and Patricia Heffley, all of New York, for WBAI listener-sponsors; Arturo Griffiths and Leigh Hauter for WPFW Washington, D.C. area listener-sponsors; Rick Pothoff and Kurt Guerdrum of Texas for KPFT listener-sponsors; and Ron Swart and Charles Scurich of Southern California for KPFK listener-sponsors.
The twelve represent more than 2,700 listener-sponsors from across the country who have signed declarations calling for court removal of the Pacifica board. The declarations have been bound in six volumes and presented to the Attorney General. Carol Spooner, a Santa Rosa grandmother and 37-year KPFA listener-sponsor, organized the grass-roots Committee to Remove the Pacifica Board (http://home.pon.net/wildrose/remove.htm) which has been gathering the declarations since August. "We've received declarations from 26 states so far, as well as from Germany, Australia, Canada and Mexico. We're still collecting them," Spooner says. "And the money to fund our lawsuit is coming in donations from these listeners."
The suit asserts the Pacifica Board must be removed for diverting Pacifica from its founding purposes, under the influence of the federally-funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting, in order to moderate its message and "grow its market share." Last July Pacifica hired a "private militia" and spent more than $500,000 to lock-out the KPFA staff in Berkeley for 23 days as part of a plan to "shut down and reprogram" that station. The plan was revealed in an e-mail memo from board member Michael Palmer to board chair Mary Frances Berry that was leaked to the Media Alliance, a San Francisco media watchdog group. The memo, which also discussed possible sale of KPFA or WBAI, was later authenticated by Palmer. Thousands of demonstrators forced Pacifica to return KPFA regular programming to the air after many staff and demonstrators were arrested.
The plaintiffs assert that Pacifica has already "reprogrammed" WPFW in Washington, D.C. and KPFT in Houston. Those stations now broadcast mainly jazz and country-western music, respectively, with little of the local progressive community news and public affairs, radical commentary and political dissent that have been the Pacifica signature since its inception 50 years ago. "WPFW doesn't care about the progressive community in Washington," says plaintiff Leigh Hauter. "KPFT is just juke-box radio now," according to Rick Pothoff. "Station manager Garland Ganter says we have more listeners now and raise more money. But anybody can do that with popular music. That's not why we fought for KPFT after the Ku Klux Klan bombed it off the air twice in the '70s." Since "reprogramming" began in the early 1990s KPFT and KPFK have both lost much of their minority programming. At KPFK in Los Angeles, there were massive firings in 1995.
Pacifica's infamous "gag-rule" prevents staff from telling the public what's going on at the five Pacifica stations, ironically known as "free speech radio." "Recently an award-winning journalist was banned from KPFK for writing about the Pacifica crisis in a newspaper. And a much loved Latino program was suspended for discussing the Pacifica crisis on the air, even though it has been news in the major media," according to Chuck Scurich. Just two weeks ago, Pacifica National News Washington Bureau Chief, Dan Coughlin, was abruptly "reassigned" to a research project after airing a 20-second report on the October 27 one-day protest boycott of Pacifica by sixteen Pacifica affiliate stations.
Daniel Robert Bartley, a Northern California attorney specializing in "whistle blower" suits and public interest law, represents the 12 plaintiffs. "The suit requests the court to order Pacifica to revise its bylaws to grant listener-sponsors legal 'membership' status and voting rights, as well as a fair, reasonable and consistent mechanism for nominating and electing directors," according to Bartley. "We believe the Pacifica bylaws are fundamentally unreasonable, given the nature and purposes of Pacifica. Bylaws seemingly in compliance with statutory provisions are invalid under California law if they are unreasonable," said Bartley. "It is truly ironic that the network that pioneered listener-sponsored radio has a totally undemocratic governance structure. This has allowed a small autocratic group to commandeer Pacifica and, we believe, subvert it from within," said plaintiff Carolyn Birden.
Pacifica Board Chair, Mary Frances Berry, is also a Clinton administration political appointee to the chair of the Federal Civil Rights Commission. "This is a horrifying conflict of interest," says Carol Spooner. "It is extremely dangerous for the independent free press in America when a high federal government official is also running the radio network that has been the most consistent broadcast medium for expression of political dissent in this country for the past 50 years." Concerns over the ominous political nature of the changes at Pacifica were expressed by the late Samori Marksman, long-time WBAI program director. At a local station advisory board meeting in 1997, Marksman said: "The national director's attacks on 'Democracy Now,' her criticisms about the coverage of East Timor and statements like, 'how dare we criticize Bill Clinton,' bother me ... Why is Pacifica trying to remove the voice of Mumia Abu-Jamal?" Samori Marksman went on to say, "When contempt and arrogance rule, Pacifica loses its soul, its purpose, its values. The very essence of Pacifica is being compromised."
"That's why we're going to court," says WBAI listener Patricia Heffley.
To contribute to
our legal fund make checks payable to:
Committee to Remove the Pacifica Board
Mail to: 1136 Wild Rose Drive, Santa Rosa, CA 95401