Sen. John Burton, D-San Francisco, president pro-tem of the State Senate, plunged last week into the conflict between the Pacifica Foundation Board – the nonprofit holder of licenses to five radio stations including KPFA in Berkeley – and a number of the radio stations’ listener-sponsors and their paid and unpaid staffs.
Last week Burton fired off a letter to David Acosta, chair of the Pacifica Board, saying: “The California Legislature continues to have strong concerns about actions by Pacifica Radio and the impact of those actions on its stations and listeners.”
The letter asks Acosta, who did not return Daily Planet calls, to clarify three issues: the board’s “refusal to share KPFA’s financial information with KPFA management;” its use of listener donations for the board’s legal fees; and the board’s use of funds “to oppose union organizing.”
David Landau, a journalist with KPFA’s news department and staff representative to the Local Advisory Board, went to Sacramento last week and, in his capacity as a LAB representative, spoke with Burton. David Adelson, interim chair of the KPFK (Los Angeles area) Local Advisory Board and Vic Bedoian, manager of the Fresno station that repeats much of KPFA’s programming, accompanied Landau.
Landau said Wednesday the conversation with Burton included a discussion of the difficulty KPFA management has in gaining access to the money it has raised. “KPFA’s management doesn’t know its own balance sheet or what it can spend,” he said, adding, “Pacifica’s own board members can’t find out (about the finances).”
Management must go to the board which signs every check, other than payroll, he said.
Another issue is that Pacifica is spending an unknown amount of money fighting lawsuits brought by listeners, former employees and local advisory boards.
On the question of the board opposing union activities, Landau said at WBAI, Pacifica’s New York station, the board fought an attempt to include volunteer staff in the employees’ union. “Pacifica spends a lot of money to try to thwart efforts at various stations,” he said.
Dave Sebeck, spokesperson for Burton, said the legislature’s role was to assure that the mission of the California nonprofit is carried out. “Public broadcasting has a special place in the state,” he said.
In other Pacifica Foundation-related news, the Congressional Progressive Caucus – made up of more than 50 progressive members of the U.S. House of Representatives and one senator – is meeting to talk about how to best follow up after its hearings on the conflict at the listener-sponsored stations.
Andrew Sousa, spokesperson for Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, who is vice chair of the caucus, said the caucus may decide to hold town-hall style meetings in a number of locations to learn more about the situation. They may “place (the conflict) in the context of free speech,” Soussa said, noting that Pacifica stations are among the few avenues progressive politicians have, on a national scale, to be heard.