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Council backs workers in KPFA power struggle

By Jon Mays Daily Planet Staff
Monday February 19, 2001

Support is growing for the local KPFA community in its struggle to retain its grassroots ideals of free speech and autonomy as the Berkeley City Council this week came out against a proposal by parent company Pacifica Radio Network to change its by-laws.  

Such a change, City Councilmember Kriss Worthington said, would mean a dangerous shift in power from the people who built free-speech radio more than 50 years ago. 

“Drastic revisions to the by-laws really consolidates power in a few hands — including the power to sell stations,” Worthington said.  

Last week, the City Council voted 7-0 in favor of a resolution that both supported KPFA staff members for their contribution to the community and opposed any change in Pacifica’s by-laws. Councilmembers Betty Olds and Polly Armstrong abstained from voting.  

The KPFA/Pacifica Radio Network conflict arose in July 1999 after Pacifica officials did not renew a popular KPFA general manager’s contract and directed staff not to talk about the situation. Programmers and radio hosts protested, leading to a lock-out at the station and a three-day protest in the streets during which more than 50 people were arrested. Although the station re-opened later that month, there is still tension between station supporters and Pacifica. At the time, the City Council passed a number of resolutions supporting the station and its listeners. 

At its national board meeting this March, Pacifica has proposed to revise its by-laws in several ways. The changes would enable Pacifica to whittle its board from 19 to as few as five which allows key decisions to be made by as few as three board members; reduce the minimum vote for removal of a board member from two-thirds to 51 percent; ban local advisory board members from serving on the national board; reduce meeting notice time to as little as 24 hours; allow Pacifica executives to serve on the board; and permit the sale of Pacifica assets. 

These proposed changes coupled with recent staff firings and lockouts at WBAI – Pacifica’s New York affiliate – prompted Worthington to take action.  

“We got involved when there were serious problems with KPFA in Berkeley,” Worthington said. “And the WBAI situation is eerily reminiscent of what happened at KPFA. It once again puts it into crisis mode because these are such extreme actions.” 

Worthington is meeting with state Assemblywoman Dion Aroner (D-Berkeley) this week to gain additional support for local KPFA listeners. 

That’s the type of action that may be necessary to fend off the Pacifica establishment that “would rather censor, intimidate and fire rather than come to solution,” according to KPFA disc jockey Robbie Osman. 

Although Osman said Pacifica officials deny they will make any decision on their by-laws in March, he also warns that they could be lying.  

Calls to Pacifica Radio Network were not returned. 

Still, Osman appreciates the community support that the Berkeley City Council has given the station and its supporters in the past.  

“KPFA is very closely tied to the whole Northern California community, particularly in Berkeley. And that’s the glory of KPFA,” he said. “That’s the reason that 10 to 15 million people got off their duffs and protested the closure of KPFA and [Pacifica] started playing country and western music. It says a lot.”