Pacifica Listeners: Is this what you want from your station?

The following memo has been posted at Pacifica Station KPFK-FM in Los Angeles by the station's management:

There's a lot of excitement and tension surrounding Iraq and the possibility of war. In consultation with our attorney, he said that it is important to understand the following policy to avoid an FCC complaint:

FCC laws preclude on-air personnel from making any call to action. In other words, you are legally prohibited from instructing listeners to go or do a specific action.

In the likely event of U.S military actions against Iraq, take care in disseminating information. For example, you are allowed to give out information on various protests and actions, etc., but you cannot tell people to go to the protests or commit a particular act. Our most important role is to disseminate information in the most responsible manner. If you have any questions about this policy and how to implement it, please contact me in the Programming Office.

Kathy Lo

Yeah, I have questions…since when were KPFK broadcasters prohibited from having opinions? I was on KPFK's staff during the Gulf War in 1991. There was no such policy posted on the wall then.

Last October, Pacifica's current Executive Director, Pat Scott, told attendees of the Media and Democracy Congress that "agitprop journalism" has no place at Pacifica.

Throughout their history, Pacifica stations have been a focus for community organizing, especially in the area of anti-war activism. Pacifica was founded in response to the cold-war jingoism of commercial media. Pacifica's original articles of incorporation specifically articulate a mission to end warmongering.

During almost half a century of broadcasting, Pacifica has served as a platform for morally justified but unpopular views. Pacifica's programming has transformed many from "passivists" to pacifists, not by skirting the issues but by bringing passionate advocates to the airwaves and giving them the freedom to speak. KPFK-FM used to proudly announce itself as "Free Speech Radio." Not any more. This designation, as well as free speech itself, has been systematically stamped out by Pacifica's new management.

Gag orders have been issued to avoid accountability to the people who have supported the stations. As a result of these gag orders, most of the subscribers are in the dark about significant internal changes taking place inside the Pacifica Foundation. A spin-doctor, called a "communications director," was been hired to do damage control, which included the creation of a script called a "cheat sheet." The "cheat sheet" presents a series of evasive soundbytes for use by Pacifica personnel in answering questions from the people and the press about the changes taking place at Pacifica Radio.

At KPFK-FM in Los Angeles, more than 125 community programmers have been taken off the air and replaced by a few paid programmers whose content is closely monitored from above.  At KPFA-FM in Berkeley, the situation is similar. Scott admitted in a recent interview in "Z Magazine" that she wants to do the same at WBAI-FM in New York, but is currently hampered by what she has previously referred to as an "impediment," the union contract. She has directed the expenditure of more than $60,000 dollars (…and counting) on union-busting consultants and lawyers. She is currently using your money to appeal a National Labor Relations Board ruling in favor of the union at WBAI.

Even the host of the "Democracy Now," the program termed the "exception to the rulers," has been told to place more pro-Clinton speakers on the air. Dr. Helen Caldicott, who was doing a weekly program on WBAI, was told "not to criticize America so much."

Pat Scott has claimed, in many public statements, that these "positive changes" are to benefit you, the listeners and subscribers. Are you benefiting?

One group which is not benefiting are the activist communities who relied on the Berkeley and Los Angeles stations as their means of communication and mobilization. In the past, there were a large number of different programs with autonomous producers who could provide a forum for the many issues motivating people in the community. Now, due to systematic elimination of those varied voices, described as "balkanization" by Pacifica's management, a few nationally produced programs by paid producers have become the gatekeepers for what issues and ideas are brought to the public's attention.

These programs tend to focus attention on national and international organizations, and while they provide information, do not provide a doorway for those who desire to act on what they have learned. Most activism occurs on a local level, even if the issues are international. Hearing from the executive director of a large advocacy organization may be informative, but it does not extend a hand to would-be participants. Political activity is reduced to letter writing to elected officials, arguably not a way to accomplish much. Furthermore, it reinforces the attitude of passive supplicant to the "leaders," as opposed to activating direct intervention on a grassroots level.

Many are asking, and the memo above intensifies the relevance of these questions, whether this is by design. What is the purpose of the strict monitoring of content and the removal of producers' autonomy?  Autonomy for the broadcaster and the willingness to offend and provoke, as well as inspire, were the founding principles of this organization. It was this courageous and confrontational approach that made Pacifica stations "relevant" in the past.

Pacifica's current masters, however, seem to have a "museum" view of political struggle. It is fine to document the 25th anniversary of the Wounded Knee rebellion, but there is no program on KPFK, here in Los Angeles, directing itself to the current struggles of the indigenous people of this land. And over 100,000 native people live in Los Angeles. Latinos are the largest single ethnic group here, yet programming geared toward serving these communities is rapidly being eliminated. While there is a significant amount of Spanish-Language media here, it, like its Anglo counterparts, exists to deliver audiences to advertisers. The African-American community is getting better services in the way of information regarding their needs from two commercial stations here than from KPFK, the so-called  "voice of the voiceless."

If you are an activist who has relied on your local Pacifica station to be your forum, wake up and smell the coffee. You are losing your voice.

Lyn Gerry

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