Despite its mission of dialogue, KPFA has become a venue for increasingly nasty attacks, which exhaust the station and turn listeners off. I would like to set the record straight on a number of allegations that have been printed in these pages and to ask the question: can KPFA afford to be at war with itself?
Many of us have witnessed infighting destroy Left institutions—our own circular firing squads have often damaged our organizations in a way even the Right has not. Neither KPFA nor the American Left can afford such a thing, particularly today. There are different views about how the station should be run—and the differences are legitimate. The question is whether we can discuss those differences without personally demonizing the people who work hard to make KPFA the beacon of hope that it is and must remain.
I believe the culture of vilification that has characterized KPFA’s Local Station Board election will tear the station apart regardless of who wins the actual vote. The KPFA community needs to find a way to disagree without attacking, to discuss the merits of diverging positions without impugning the motives of the people who hold them, and to work toward consensus rather than towards crushing opposition.
Candidates for KPFA’s Local Station Board have demonized KPFA’s interim general manager Lemlem Rijio and me in campaign statements broadcast and mailed to KPFA’s subscribers (in violation of fair campaign provisions those candidates signed off on).
The attacks are without basis but, like any smear campaign, it’s not the facts that matter—if a fabrication is repeated often enough it starts to take on a life of its own.
The attacks insinuate that we are part of a secret plan to eviscerate KPFA’s mission and destroy its board. The allegations are based on a 2005 e-mail a staff member sent to a number of people during a crisis under the leadership of a previous station manager. The e-mail suggested discussion topics for a meeting and among them was an item suggesting a mass recall of board members, which the staff member also referred to as “dismantling” the then-current board.
We received this e-mail. We never endorsed the staffer’s suggestion, and the meeting he proposed never took place. However, some candidates for KPFA’s board are now branding us “dismantlers” because we received an e-mail two years ago, prior to assuming our current positions.
Candidates for KPFA’s board are also alleging that we are bent on “dismantling” KPFA’s Program Council, which we both sit on and which helps determine programming direction at the station. This is demonstrably false. By this spring, nearly three quarters of the members of the Program Council were one or two years past their elected terms, which brought the legitimacy of the body into question. We were the driving force in getting the various constituencies represented on the Council to elect new members, by giving them a deadline, providing administrative support for the recruitment of new listener representatives, and, after several month’s notice, putting the council on hiatus until new representatives were in place. The body has been meeting as a highly functional and legitimate group since September—before the current board elections began.
It has also been claimed that we conspired to hijack both this and last year’s board elections, by not airing candidate spots on the air. However, the elections are run by an independent election supervisor who determines the timing for on air candidate statements, not us.
Most recently, people have asserted on these pages that we have prohibited the announcement of demonstrations on KPFA’s air. This allegation is patently false. If you tuned into our last management report to the listeners, you would have heard us announce and encourage our listeners to attend the demonstration by Code Pink at the Military Recruitment office in downtown Berkeley, to oppose a right-wing counterdemonstration. And in the middle of our latest fund drive, not only did we take time out to broadcast the Oct. 27 anti-war demonstration in San Francisco, we each told our listeners multiple times about its time and location on our air.
The people launching these baseless attacks make broader and more troubling assertions that KPFA’s staff are sell-outs and that the station is in crisis.
In truth, KPFA is the strongest and most financially viable station in the Pacifica Network. We have more subscribers than any other Pacifica station, even those broadcasting to areas with twice the population we cover. As managers, we have increased KPFA’s channels for collecting listener feedback about what’s working and what isn’t. We believe the station has benefited greatly from that input, which informs the decisions we make. Our staff work tirelessly to shine light on US imperialism, the exploitation of working people, racism and environmental injustice, and to raise our collective spirits with an exceptional breadth of art, culture, and music. This last week, KPFA sent a team to Seattle headed by Larry Bensky to broadcast the final FCC hearing on media ownership. The FCC is poised to lift the rules on newspaper and television station cross-ownership, setting the stage for a new wave of mergers and corporate media consolidation, and as dissident FCC Commissioner Adelstein said: “no one else but you comes to cover these”.
KPFA has expanded its programming to the cutting edge of new media, launching, among other things, The War Comes Home project, which uses online social networks, blogs, and other Internet technologies to broadcast the stories of returning Iraq veterans across the blogosphere. Of course, we could always do better, but there is a good deal of energy moving the station in a positive direction and it is a collective effort.
So if the station is in good shape, why are candidates for KPFA’s board circulating such destructive allegations about KPFA management, the station, and its staff? More importantly, if they win control of KPFA on the basis of such attacks, what, exactly, will they have accomplished?
Sasha Lilley is KPFA’s interim program director.