This weekend's meeting of the newly established interim Pacifica National Board in New York is likely to be a turning point in the history of the radio network and has many hoping for positive steps in the internal conflict that has been going on throughout the 90's and intensified over the past year.
(WBAI in New York is a member of the Pacifica network and is the station that carries our "Off The Hook" program on Tuesday nights.)
For years the Pacifica National Board - which had become a self-appointing body seeking to streamline operations and increase listenership at the five Pacifica stations - was fought by groups of listeners, former and current programmers, and others concerned with the apparent abandoning of the original Pacifica mission of free speech and alternative programming. In December a major victory was won by opponents with the negotiated settlement of lawsuits brought against the Pacifica Foundation. This resulted in a new interim board with a majority composed of former opponents. However, some members of the old board remained as well. (A permanent board that will be democratically elected will come into being in the next year.)
According to the agreement, a two thirds majority is needed for any vote by the 15 member board. Votes that don't attain this number have to be decided upon by the judge. So far the board has voted to immediately return "Democracy Now!" to Pacifica airwaves (only KPFA in Berkeley had been airing it since the program stopped being broadcast from WBAI), end the gag rule which had forbidden programmers from talking about these issues over the airwaves, and investigate the dozens of cases of people being thrown off the air at WBAI.
In a surprising and somewhat bizarre twist, a number of stations have been refusing to follow the board's decisions. For example, WBAI has not aired "Democracy Now!" once in the past week in direct contradiction to the board. Multiple programmers, including veterans Bob Fass and Mike Feder, have been thrown off the air simply for criticizing station management and the events of the last year as WBAI was taken over by people loyal to the old Pacifica majority. Others at the station, including management, have freely criticized and personally attacked their opponents on the air and have been attempting to get listeners to confront the new board members at this weekend's meeting.
KPFK in Los Angeles refuses to air "Democracy Now!" in its former 9 am slot and is only running it at 6 in the morning. In addition, an announcement is being played over KPFK accusing the board of withholding operating funds to the station and making decisions about local programming for the first time in the network's history. But operating funds were taken over by Pacifica back in 1995, well before the current board was put into place. In fact, the majority of the new board fiercely opposed that move while the KPFK management forbid any discussion of the matter on the airwaves. Pacifica has also always had at least one "must carry" national program. The KPFK announcements seem to be a last ditch effort on the part of management to mobilize listeners against the new board. However, the attempt appears to have backfired. A local advisory board meeting on Wednesday drew nearly 200 people who were outraged by what they had heard. But most of them appeared to have sided against the station management after learning the entire history.
At KPFT in Houston, more positive changes appear to be in the works. For the first time in years, the station was opened to listeners on Thursday. This followed the resignation of the station manager and program director. For years, programming at KPFT had become mostly music with the bulk of its diverse and eclectic shows cancelled. KPFT staff will be producing an hour long show detailing the history of the battle for Pacifica which will air several times starting next week. Such a program would have been unheard of only a week ago, where mere mention of the Pacifica crisis was forbidden. In addition, programming ideas are now being accepted from listeners.
WPFW in Washington DC has been cutting out portions of "Democracy Now!" and forbidding mention of the crisis. The station avoids talk of political issues and has adopted a jazz format. On Wednesday, the WPFW local advisory board issued this statement: "Whereas the station manager of WPFW has displayed abundant
unprofessional behavior; has shown a lack of respect for the
listeners; has censored programming; has rebuffed innumerable efforts
on the part of the Local Advisory Board to forum a dialogue and move
the station and the network forward to serve the listener/members
with crucial information; has continued to ignore critical events
happening in the nation's capital and around the world, the station
manager must be suspended and new management dedicated to the peace
and justice mission of Pacifica must be put in place as quickly as
All of this will culminate in this weekend's national board meeting in New York City, which is open to the public. The meeting will be held at the New York Hotel Trade Council, 305 West 44th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenue. The meeting starts at 7 pm on Friday and 9 am Saturday and Sunday. More info can be found at http://www.wbai.net and http://www.pacifica.org.