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Journalists Inspire Support for Community Radio / Pacifica Continues


Norman Solomon / Creators Syndicate

Last

Wednesday afternoon, radio journalist Aileen Alfandary stood on

the sidewalk in front of the building where she has worked for many

years. She looked out of place. The deadline for the KPFA evening

news was fast approaching — but all the doors were locked.

I

asked Alfandary to describe what had happened to her the night before.

She replied with a quiet voice: "I was arrested on charges

of `trespassing’ in a newsroom where I’ve worked for 20 years."

Some

of her colleagues were also among the more than 50 station supporters

arrested on the night of July 13. The owner of the Berkeley, Calif.,

station — the Pacifica Foundation — had ordered KPFA employees

to choose between journalism and job security. They chose journalism.

Now they’ve been locked out.

To

make matters worse, the foundation also owns major noncommercial

radio stations in Los Angeles, Houston, New York City and Washington.

For several months now, with a flurry of officious memos, foundation

authorities have demanded adherence to a "gag rule" against

covering Pacifica-related issues on the air — issues crucial to

future possibilities for free-speech radio.

With

a signal that reaches most households in Northern California, KPFA

is the oldest listener-supported radio station in the United States.

Its mix of wide-ranging news and public affairs programs along with

diverse cultural offerings has earned fierce loyalty.

All

across the country, hundreds of public radio stations are now paying

close attention to the conflict between KPFA and Pacifica. Can a

public radio station truly function with the significant democratic

participation of listeners? Or must a few unaccountable people be

in a position to dictate basic policies?

Because

KPFA has tremendous public support in the San Francisco area, the

Pacifica Foundation keeps discovering that it can’t intimidate the

paid staff, unpaid volunteers or listeners. Since early spring,

one firing after another has only strengthened the resistance.

During

KPFA’s on-air pledge drive in May, more than 85 percent of the approximately

7,000 contributors formally notified the station that they were

pledging under protest to express opposition to the foundation’s

top-down policies. But the de facto referendum seemed to make no

impression on Pacifica’s leadership.

On

July 13, management decided to put down its iron heel. The foundation’s

executive director called a sudden meeting of KPFA staff and distributed

a memo titled "Appropriate Conduct." It declared that

"Pacifica is committed to enforcing its policies and my previous

directives prohibiting on-air or in-the-media discussion of matters

pertaining to Pacifica or KPFA management decisions…"

Hours

after distribution of the memo, the daily "Flashpoints"

public-affairs program went on the air. Most of the 60 minutes were

devoted to discussing issues of journalism and racial diversity

in America. Then came a segment that included tape from a news conference

held earlier in the day by a few of the dozen people who had been

arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience at the station in June.

At

6 p.m., as usual, "Flashpoints" ended and the KPFA evening

news began. After a lead story about health care proposals in Washington,

anchor Mark Mericle moved on to read a report about the latest developments

in the dispute between KPFA and Pacifica. Suddenly, listeners heard

"Flashpoints" producer and co-host Dennis Bernstein yelling

his protests as security guards surrounded him.

Moments

after going off the air, Bernstein had been told that he was being

placed on "administrative leave." Bernstein refused to

go quietly. Reporting live, Mericle began to inform listeners about

what was happening in the studio a few feet away.

Then,

in mid-sentence, the air went dead. It spluttered, and Mericle’s

reportorial voice returned. But only for a few moments. The air

went dead again. When sound returned in a couple of minutes, the

station was broadcasting a taped speech from Pacifica archives.

I’ll

never forget how chilling it was to hear this real-life drama —

of journalistic courage and management suppression — as it occurred,

live, on the radio. It sounded totalitarian.

Bernstein

declined to obey orders to leave the studios where he had worked

for so long. Likewise, when a newly arrived management operative

(just flown in from Houston) ordered news department co-directors

Mericle and Alfandary to get out of the newsroom and leave the building,

they declined to defer to his illegitimate authority. Arrests came

later that night.

The

battle between KPFA and Pacifica is far from over. It’s a struggle

with profound implications for public radio. Much hangs in the balance.

Staff,

volunteers and listeners continue to gather in front of the KPFA

building on behalf of community radio and social justice. Often,

their numbers are so large that they spill out onto the street.

Appropriately, it is named Martin Luther King Jr. Way.


Background

information is available at http://www.savepacifica.cjb.net


Norman

Solomon’s latest book is "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media."

 

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