EDITOR'S NOTE: The Daily Planet extended an invitation to the Concerned Listeners' group to submit a commentary regarding the KPFA Local Station Board election which would have run alongside this one, with both sides then invited to comment on the other in a later edition. Concerned Listeners did not respond.
KPFA’s recent Local Station Board (LSB) election was not the example of media democracy it was designed to be. This LSB election
was not conducted in conformance with the Pacifica Bylaws; was corrupted by KPFA and Pacifica management and some staff intentionally violating rules to get votes for their allies’ slate; did not provide adequate information about the candidates to enable voters to make educated choices; and did not provide ballots to many eligible voters in a timely manner.
New bylaws were adopted after the 1999 “hijacking” attempt was defeated by mass listener activity to protect and preserve KPFA and Pacifica. These Bylaws incorporated fair elections of governing boards for each station to eliminate the prior practice of self-appointing boards, which led to the crisis in the 1990s.
Every voter, whatever their views on the issues and candidates, has a right to expect that the process by which we select our governing board will be fair, open, and orderly, in accordance with the Fair Campaign Provisions established by Pacifica’s bylaws and election supervisors; that the information voters need to make an informed choice will be available in a timely way; and that all candidates will be afforded an equal opportunity to present their views and their qualifications to the voters.
In reality, the process has fallen far short of these standards:
Management influence and improper and improper use of station resources
The 2007 Fair Campaign Provisions, which every staff member, including managers, is required to read and sign, state that “No Foundation or radio station management or staff (paid or unpaid) or any other person may use or permit the use of radio station air time, website space, email lists, or other resources to endorse, campaign for or against, promote or disparage, or recommend in favor of or against any candidate for election as a Local Station Board.” On October 24, just over a week after ballots were mailed to listener-sponsors, KPFA and the other Pacifica stations posted on their websites an open letter from Dan Siegel, then Interim Executive Director of the Pacifica Foundation, with the admitted objective of influencing voters’ choices: the letter directly disparaged one easily identifiable group of KPFA candidates, denouncing their strongly stated but clearly political free speech criticisms of some station personnel and management-allied LSB members, as “abusive,” “hateful,” “personal attacks.” This letter remained prominently featured on the KPFA website for more than a week, and was never removed from the National Elections Web page, to which KPFA’s was linked.
Siegel’s was not the only serious violation of the Fair Campaign Provision quoted above. On October 30 veteran programmer Larry Bensky used a KPFA e-mail list and server to send out to an as yet unknown number of voters a message endorsing one slate of candidates and attacking the incumbent board.
Defiance of supervisors’ authority
In response to Bensky’s blatant violation of the rules, the election supervisors devised a partial remedy, instructing station management to allow each competing slate to send a 300-word message of their own to the same e-mail list Bensky used. The slates promptly produced their proposed messages, but KPFA’s managers refused to take the steps necessary to get these messages sent out on the list.
The candidate statements mailed to listeners-subscribers with their ballots go only a small part of the way toward meeting this need; on-air candidate forums and announcements and in-person events are also essential for informing the electorate. After past elections, there have been both widespread sentiment and reports by election supervisors calling for more such events and publicity, but this year KPFA had less than ever before.
Only one two-part on-air forum was held before ballots were mailed to listener-subscribers, but it was poorly publicized in advance, and afterwards the audio archives were not posted at the station website for weeks. Candidates were required to respond to a detailed questionnaire about their views and experience, but their responses were not posted online until the voting period was almost over. During the fall fund drive, which ran from Oct. 16 to Nov. 2, the station provided no information whatsoever about the election, on the dubious grounds that election information can’t be combined with fund-raising. KPFT in Houston does both. Even after the drive ended, station management did not begin airing candidates’ pre-recorded statements until less than a week remained in the voting period, and then there was no transparent system to ensure all candidates’ carts got equal treatment. Management tried to satisfy its obligation to air the carts by playing them all in a bloc –21 in a row - an approach guaranteed to minimize listener ship, and one that was particularly unfair to the candidates whose statements were aired last. The management-allied slate’s number-one candidate had her statement played first on the list of 21. Only one in-person candidate event was organized, in Berkeley, and it received very little publicity over the air.
The black-out of election information during the fund drive was especially damaging: it left voters with minimal information when they first received their ballots, thus magnifying the advantage of the KPFA management-backed, “Concerned Listeners” slate that spent thousands of dollars to send its own carefully-timed mailing to arrive with the ballots during the black-out.
Failure to provide ballots to all eligible voters
Many listener-sponsors and unpaid staff reported not receiving ballot packets. The problem is particularly acute among unpaid staff, that vote in the staff elections, because management failed in its duty to provide a timely, accurate, and complete list of the unpaid staff. As recently as Nov. 29, after the elections should have been closed, more than 40 unpaid staff members had not received a ballot. The election supervisors have had to extend the election deadline several times, and it appears that many eligible staffers will not receive ballots before the election finally closes.
KPFA and Pacifica listeners fought hard for the right to elect their governing boards. We are deeply dismayed that some powerful elements within the KPFA community have shown themselves willing to subvert our hard-won bylaws and abandon basic principles of fairness and democracy.
If you would like to support fair elections at KPFA/Pacifica send contact information to Committee for Fair Elections at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fair Election Committee member endorsers (at time of submission to the Daily Planet):
Richard Phelps**, Henry Norr, Stan Woods, Akio Tanaka, Noelle Hanrahan, Joe Wanzala, Attila Nagy, LaVarn Williams*, Chandra Hauptman* ** — current board members (*also PNB); Carol Spooner, Steve Conley. Gerald Sanders, Willie Ratcliff — former board members; Tracy Rosenberg** — KPFA Local Election Board supervisor 2006 and board candidate. Bob English, Dave Heller, Mara Rivera, Steve Zeltzer, Carl Bryant, CC Campbell Rock — 2007 board candidates; Linda Hewitt, Virginia Browning, Daniel Borgstrom, Steve Gilmartin, Gregory Wonderwheel, Jim Curtis, Stephen Kessler, Mary Ratcliff, Molly Beyea, Chuck O’Neil, Janet Kobren, CR (Bob) Briscoe, Ann Garrison, Rabea Chaudary, Dianne Budd, Laura Wells, Lou Gold, Tim Modak-Pearson, Peter Broadwell, David Keenan, Bill Carpenter — listener members; Adrienne Lauby, Anthony Fest — staff members.
(* = also PNB; ** = re-elected in preliminary [uncertified] results)