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Pacifica's Future?

By Clare Spark


The weekend of Feb. 26th-28th will mark a watershed event in the history of Pacifica Radio, the largest and most powerful public broadcasting outlet in the United States. The Pacifica Foundation Board of Governors will be meeting in Berkeley, CA, and will be voting to alter the by-laws of the foundation that determine how Governors are selected. Although it may appear to be a mere administrative detail, in reality this change will have a decisive influence on who, in the future, will have influence over the disposition of over $200 million in unique broadcast assets. The important specifics of this change and the context for understanding the trajectory have been published in the Jan 15-31 issue of CounterPunch( Of course, Pacifica leadership does not agree with Alexander Cockburn that Pacifica has been neutered. As articulated by the Chair of the Governing Board, Dr. Mary Frances Berry, "…our main goals, according to the plan, are to mobilize listeners toward positive social change and to reach the largest possible audience." In a related public statement, Dr. Berry was disturbed by those aspects of Pacifica that resemble "a dysfunctional family that's lived together too long and [in which] everybody has ancient grievances and memories about things that somebody did years ago." In her search for a new Executive Director she wants "a good administrator and manager, who's good with people, and sensitive to the public image of the organization. And who can in a collegial way work with station managers and volunteers to make progress with a minimum of conflict." The same criteria have been emphasized in the job posting for a National Program Director. In brief, the impending changes will etch in stone dramatic changes in the structure and uses of Pacifica. This article suggests the present impact and future directions in which these changes lead us. My focus here is the significantly modified language with which the goals of Pacifica are now presented to prospective listener-sponsors as well as to applicants for the most powerful jobs in the Foundation. Top-down management techniques will reconstruct the happy Pacifica family.

The Pacifica Mission Statement as posted on the current Pacifica website banishes any open-ended, multi-sourced original investigation of our political culture whatsoever, contrary to the explicit specifications as formulated in the late 1940s by founder Lewis Hill. However, his name is invoked as if he had in fact approved of the new dispensation. Here is how the Pacifica website presents its revised Mission to the unwary:

Pacifica Mission Statement: To Lew Hill, the Quaker conscientious objector and Washington, D.C. news broadcaster, the biased and myopic clutter of commercial radio was the driving force behind the establishment of KPFA and Pacifica Radio-- born in 1949 with a mission which to this day remains unique in radio broadcasting: · To promote cultural diversity and pluralistic community expression · To contribute to a lasting understanding between individuals of all nations, races, creeds and colors · To promote freedom of the press and serve as a forum for various viewpoints and · To maintain an independent funding base 
As revised, the Pacifica Mission submerges the liberties and qualities of individuals in a series of (peacefully co-existing) imagined communities, racially or ethnically defined. The original Mission Statement declares that programming shall strive to study the causes of conflict, i.e. political, economic, philosophical and religious antagonisms, in the interests of course, of world peace. It also states that news gathering is to strive for accuracy and objectivity by bringing information not found elsewhere to the listeners, so that news analysis can be presented with each subject considered with maximum comprehensiveness, no embarrassing facts suppressed. The systematic study of conflict that would facilitate cooperation (where possible) between previously antagonistic individuals and groups, past and present, has disappeared. Present management introduces terms found nowhere in Lewis Hill's original statement: "cultural diversity" and "pluralistic community expression." Doubtlessly included to conform to the recommendations and guidelines of public broadcasting after the 1960s, and specifically, to qualify Pacifica as a minority radio network eligible for CPB funding, the multicultural objective, presented first, is immediately followed by the second that mentions "a lasting understanding between individuals," then the item on free speech. Hence, the reader may believe that "cultural diversity and pluralistic community expression" inevitably protect the free speech and interests of "individuals" against all forms of illegitimate authority. Not surprisingly, the new Mission has also eliminated from the original statement the encouragement of experimental, vanguard artists from the local community--presumably creators of high and challenging (but now "elitist") culture, given the well-known interests of Lew Hill, his poet-anarchist-libertarian supporters in the Bay Area, and the arts programming celebrated for decades on Pacifica stations in SF, Los Angeles, and NYC. 

The rights to differ with official authority and to control the government that rules with the consent of the governed adorn our world-inspiring Declaration of Independence. Anyone alert to the strategies of groupthink folkishness driving public broadcasting policy today as promoted by the so-called multiculturalists or "ethnopluralists" will recognize the buzz words that have erased the very concepts of the dissenting individual, the original artist or scientist, or the possibility of objective knowledge uncovered in the search for universally verifiable truths. But then, CPB funding is responsible for 20% of the Pacifica "independent funding base." And in its efforts for "outreach" and audience building (ostensibly at the behest of the CPB that requires minimum levels of listener support to bestow its largesse), Pacifica management has been subjecting the work of volunteer artists and experts in the sciences and the humanities to the judgments, not of their peers and the subscribers, but to persons who have been instructed in the techniques that disturb the demanding processes of critical thought and the full expression of developed artists--all because there is, in my view at least, the notion among some professional managers within Pacifica that "the people" [workers? persons of color?] who are to enlarge the audience will not support rational, critical processes unless "managed" with the methods of commercial advertising and soundbite news. By both inference and experience with the changes at KPFK, I have concluded that the sought-after "diverse" "communities" must be irrational and resistant to education, why, they themselves prefer indoctrination; for ---they have a very short attention span; ---they are to be mobilized to give money with the predictable appearance of charismatic, morally outraged (Pacifica) celebrity programmers at the same time every day, with whom they will bond; ---they respond primarily to the often shallow, repetitious and primitive appeals of "indigenous" popular culture and have no interest in "hegemonic" "Eurocentric" high culture (the source of their oppression); ---they, in their piebald "cultural diversity," are capable of understanding only their own "rooted" "cultures" and "community" to the exclusion of all others. Sociologists and political scientists recognize such pseudo-pluralist ploys as the favored elite strategy in micromanaging group conflict in a putative democracy. However, this famously manipulative and deceptive social psychology as developed by "moderate" upper-class Progressives is being peddled by Pacifica today as Lew Hill's insightful and objective ethos for listener-supported radio, indeed as the very essence of "grass-roots" progressivism.

What follows is my e-mail letter to Dr. Berry after I saw the job posting for a National Program Director in early January. 

"Dear Dr. Berry, I don't know if you remember the letters I wrote to you when you assumed the Chair of the Governing Board of the Pacifica Foundation, an organization with which I had been so long associated as volunteer programmer, department head, then Program Director of KPFK (Feb.1981-August 1982). I was concerned then about the increasingly commercial direction of the organization (a problem intertwined with the question of governance). At that time I appealed to you as a fellow scholar and public intellectual and you were reassuring about your determination to bring more honesty and openness to Pacifica. I am writing to you today because I am disturbed about the job posting pertaining to the open position of National Program Director. According to the Pacifica website, the applicants are to have extensive experience in management as such, including the ability to conduct and read audience surveys. There is no highlighting or emphasis given to actual experience in evaluating the intellectual content and artistic quality and originality (in an educational sense) of the programming broadcast by Pacifica. Nor is there any emphasis given to vision of the kind necessary to fulfill the tremendous demands of the Pacifica Mission Statement, let alone the mature emotional qualities necessary to oversee and maintain a cooperative working environment inhabited by a highly contentious group of programmers and listener-sponsors with varied political agendas and social experience.

For years now, those of us who have built the organization have been watching, helplessly and with diminishing morale, the transformation of an invaluable cultural resource (unlike any other) into just another institution controlled by the same values and goals as profit-driven establishment media. How can Pacifica justify its educational non-profit status if marketing strategies trump independent radio production--controversial, bold, challenging, and unfundable by other means than diffuse listener support? What shall Pacifica say to the autodidacts who look to it as the only educational institution that cares about their needs, and, at its best, can provide a range of debate, cultural production, and cutting-edge research in humanistic and scientific thought superior or equal to that of the very best universities?

The present job description for National Program Director bodes ill for Pacifica. I am not opposed to management skills as a necessary prerequisite for leadership in a non-profit organization as my letter must already have indicated, but management in programming should not be about luring or seducing a target audience with the methods perfected by commercial media; rather management skills should arise from familiarity with the particular work processes that make a Pacifica radio program potentially vibrant and meaningful to everyone in a democratic society. Managers must first of all have been successful producers themselves; they must also understand the technical and social environment that facilitates good work and motivates loyalty and commitment. It is a question of objectives and outlook. If Pacifica at its best has been a unique organization (as I believe to be the case), then leadership should be chosen from those with Pacifica experience encompassing those critical, artistic, and emotional skills I have outlined above. 

Please tell me where you stand on this question."

Dr. Berry's response to my letter reiterated her statement of goals as quoted above, adding the need for "increasing progressive news oriented programming." While aligning herself with my values and concerns, she saw no contradiction between audience building under the supervision of professional managers and the stringent demands of education for democratic participation--an education which, in my view, intellectual conflict is inevitable and desirable; with competent leadership and listener participation, likely to be productive. More than ever, I am alarmed for the future of the Pacifica Foundation.



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