Public Comment

Commentary: What Has Really Been Happening at KPFA

By Brian Edwards-Tiekert
Friday April 13, 2007

Mark Sapir’s angry April 6 commentary about KPFA includes the following sentence: “When people...behave provocatively and are unwilling to clarify and negotiate over their differences within the institution, this advances the surreptitious attack on KPFA.” 

I am curious to know what steps Sapir took to “clarify” and “negotiate” before penning his rambling attack on the station, its staff, and its Program Director. Did he pick up a phone to call Sasha Lilley before comparing her to Mary Frances Berry and insinuating that she’s a “COINTELPRO type”? Did he attempt to verify any of the vague allegations he uses to smear KPFA? 

Sapir’s letter says Lilley is a “staff union representative”—in fact, she is not even a member of KPFA’s staff union. Sapir refers to a letter from Nancy Keiler to allege KPFA did not “cover” a Barbara Lee-Ron Dellums event at the Grand Lake Theater. Had he read the letter in its entirety, Sapir would have discovered (in addition to the correct spelling of Keiler’s name) that the KPFA News Department did, in fact, have a reporter at the event. 

Sapir states that KPFA’s live coverage of things like Congressional hearings is “collapsing”—in fact, there has been a sharp uptick in such coverage since Lilley became Interim Program Director. Under her leadership, KPFA has spearheaded network-wide live broadcasts of Election Night 2006, hearings on the confirmation of Robert M. Gates as secretary of Defense, the House Judiciary Committee’s interrogation of Alberto Gonzales, and demonstrations marking the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. 

Sapir states that KPFA’s listenership is falling. In fact, the last year’s worth of Arbitron numbers show its radio listenership holding steady, while its internet listenership climbs—no small feat when radio as a whole, and public radio in particular, are losing audience. At a time when falling donations at other public radio stations in our area has forced them to extend their on-air fundraising marathons, Sasha Lilley led KPFA through a Winter fundraising marathon—her first as interim program director—that exceeded its goal, and did so in less time than last year’s. 

Sapir’s letter claims that Lilley has issued a new “edict” against “advocacy”—in fact, there is no such rule. What exists is a decades-old policy, recorded in KPFA’s staff training manuals since at least the 1980s and shared by community radio stations across the nation, prohibiting what the Federal Communi-cations Commission describes as “Call to Action” language when announcing an event. Programmers at KPFA are welcome and often encouraged to tell our listeners when and where a given demonstration is—we just can’t use phrasing like “be there.” (Such language, can, under the right circumstances, get the station sued, fined by the FCC, or in trouble with the IRS.) 

Irony is lost on Sapir: He accuses Lilley of perpetuating “internal chaos” even as he attacks her for advising the station’s staff to comply with existing policies. Prior to Sasha Lilley, KPFA had been without a Program Director for nearly seven years—her promotion to the position of interim program director is an important milestone in the return to stability at KPFA after the real chaos that engulfed the station during Pacifica radio’s civil war in 1999 and 2000.  

How, Sapir asks, will KPFA be “a useful tool for the GI resisters’ movement, the immigrants’ rights and sanctuary movements, the prison reform and opposition movements, the new sds (already at 160 chapters), the Single Payer health care movement, the anti-state torture and death penalty activists, if such edicts are upheld?” 

Perhaps Sapir doesn’t listen much to the radio station he maligns. Clearly, he wasn’t listening the week Aaron Glantz traveled to Fort Lewis, Washington, to produce up-to-the minute reports on the failed court martial of First Lieutenant Ehren Watada. Sapir must not have been listening to his radio on May 1st, when KPFA spearheaded nationally-syndicated, on-the-ground coverage of the history-making immigrants’ rights protests. He must have his radio off when Christopher Martínez, KPFA’s Sacramento reporter, delivers what are easily the most comprehensive news reports on health care policy on any California broadcaster. Sapir presumably hasn’t heard Martínez’s reports on death penalty moratorium legislation either, or KPFA’s live broadcasts of vigils at the gates of San Quentin. And Sapir likely didn’t hear the hour-long interview devoted to the new SDS that aired on “Against The Grain”—a program Sasha Lilley co-founded—last month. 

It’s understandable Sapir didn’t hear all those things—not everyone can listen to their radio all the time. And it must be particularly difficult to focus on what’s on KPFA when you’re busily churning out a 1,500-word polemic describing a fantasy KPFA where the station’s staff are actually on the payroll of the FBI. Facts would just get in the way.  


Brian Edwards-Tiekert is a KPFA news reporter and treasurer of the KPFA Local Station Board.