Public Comment

Commentary: The KPFA Flap

By Matthew Hallinan
Tuesday October 30, 2007

When I was considering running for the KPFA Local Station Board, a number of old-time activist friends told me I was crazy. There is a sectarian fringe, they said, that has placed all their hopes for getting access to an audience by gaining control over KPFA. At the same time, they explained, there was a staff that had grown comfortable with the way things are, and that would resist any effort to change things. Anybody who would put him or herself in the middle of that minefield was just plain nuts.  

What to do? KPFA and the other Pacifica stations are a few of the last mass media outlets that belong to progressives. It’s just not possible for those of us who witnessed the mass hysteria whipped up by the media during the drive to war with Iraq to simply stand back and let KPFA slide into oblivion because we don’t want to deal with the nasty characters who are trying to take it over. All of us on the left have had to deal with nasty characters—and most had a lot more power than these folks! 

When I agreed to run on the Concerned Listeners slate, I made a pact with the other members of that slate not to run a negative campaign. Somebody had to break the cycle of mudslinging that turns off listeners and that keeps good people from getting involved with the station. We were going to be different. We were going to talk about our positive vision for bringing peace to KPFA and for mobilizing support for strengthening its signal, improving its programming, and reaching out to a broader progressive audience.  

Seemed like a good idea. We all signed the KPFA Fair Campaign Provisions, the fifth plank of which states that no candidate may use Pacifica or KPFA resources to publicly attack another candidate, station staff, management, or the Foundation. Seemed like a good way to ensure that people would talk about their visions for the station, rather than simply what they don’t like about their opponents.  

However, at the candidate’s forum broadcast by KPFA, one of the People’s Radio candidates made a series of unsubstantiated charges against some of the management, staff and board. The point of his attacks was to insinuate that the members of the Concerned Listeners slate were somehow linked to the events and people he criticized. We ignored it.  

Then, when the election pamphlets were sent out to all the voters, we were amazed to see that the seven members of the People’s Radio slate had combined their statements into a lengthy, paranoid tract. They attempted to “expose” an effort by management, backed by a “minority” of staff, and supported by our slate to “dismantle” the Local Station Board in order to seize power at the station. Management’s goal, they said, was to take us back to the “bad old days” before the listener’s revolution of 1999. The members of our slate howled foul. We were playing by the rules and got blind-sided. And when we complained of the unfairness of this, that their slate broke the rules we had all signed on to, and defamed us in the one mailing the station would make—Carol Spooner and Marc Sapir come forth to protest that our complaints are just another example of management suppressing free speech.  

I know it’s a waste of time and energy to get down in the mud with a bunch of attack dogs, but it just goes against my Irish temperament to give these folks a pass on this.  

The issues are exactly the opposite of what the People’s Radio folks claim. There is no danger of management turning the clock back to 1999. The power of the Local Station Board is now written into the by-laws of the Foundation. This charge is their equivalent of Bush’s WMDs.  

It is we, the Concerned Listeners slate that wants to bring democracy to the board and to the station. It is the People’s Radio folks and their allies who are fighting tooth and nail to keep a broad, representative local Station Board from being elected. Look at who is running on our slate and who our endorsers are! The People’s Radio folks are not interested in bringing new people on to the Board—people who haven’t participated before in KPFA and that represent progressive currents that may have different outlooks on many issues than they do.  

These folks don’t want to broaden the base of democratic participation in KPFA—they want to control the station. They think they are the “true” representative’s of the Left, and they think they should be in a position to define KPFA’s mission. But do they ever talk about this? Do they ever say what their vision is? No they don’t. They talk in vague generalities about ‘mission’ and program, and substitute paranoid and baseless attacks on others to avoid spelling out what they really want for the station.  

They are not battling an effort by management to take over KPFA. Management at the station hardly exists: the paralysis created by these people has kept a permanent station and program manager from being hired! They have demonized the management and the paid staff, and have tried to present Concerned Listener’s efforts to get the entire KPFA community working together as a subterfuge for a management take-over. These folks are true believer bullies who do not want to see KPFA become an authentically democratic station that can serve as home to this incredible, broad and diverse progressive community we have in Northern California.  

That’s what’s at stake in the LSB elections at KPFA. 


Matthew Hallinan is a Concerned Listeners candidate for KPFA’s Local Station Board.