Public Comment

Friendship Is a Two-Way Street: KPFA's Fading Democratic Principles

By Richard Phelps
Thursday July 24, 2008 - 12:29:00 PM

I had hoped that KPFA’s "FriendRaiser" was going to be an improvement from the “Alternative Home Shopping Network." (Fundraising by recording speeches and public affairs programs, playing a teaser portion to get our interest, and then “selling” them as a “gift” for our donations.) The tragedy in this methodology is that the vast majority of KPFA’s audience is denied these programs unless they buy them.  Which means that low-income listeners are “priced out” of access and the information won’t get broad dissemination in our broadcast area, which I believe is the main reason for KPFA to exist. 

Please support the station. Just don’t buy the things they are selling and tell them to play them when they happen, for all to hear. That is, after all, KPFA’s mission. 

Instead of being a community free speech station that records events to promptly play them back for all to hear, they are recorded and held to create scarcity so they can be sold. Much like the oil companies withholding production so they can raise the price of gas. How friendly is this? 

In the spirit of Pacifica it would seem that an honest direct approach to fundraising would be best. However, that would require honesty, transparency and accountability from a management that doesn’t practice these principles. The current interim general manager (IGM), an ex officio member of the Local Station Board (LSB), referred to the bylaws at one of the few LSB meetings she attended last year as “your bylaws," (what would Freud have to say about that “slip”), and the current Interim Program Director (IPD), wrote in an e-mail in 2004 that “the bylaws are a disaster." 

This “FriendRaiser” exposes their negative attitude toward the Listener Democracy embodied in our bylaws. Management sent out six suggested mini-plugs and 17 bullet points for the use on air during the FriendRaiser. Nowhere in this five pages of single spaced material is there any mention that your donation of $25 or more will make you a voting member for LSB elections or any mention of our democratic governance.  

Hear is a pitch from the Morning Show, Oct. 10, 2003, when the first election was coming up and management (different IGM representing same small group’s interests) hadn’t completely decided that they were against listener involvement in governance:  “…if you give us $25 right now that will qualify you for a vote in the upcoming station board elections, our attempt to democratize this network, something unprecedented in this country. You can be a part of that by subscribing right now;  $25 qualifies you for that ….”  Despite management’s clear intent to leave it out of the FriendRaiser, and everything at the station that they can, as detailed below, a few programmers have mentioned it in passing. Thank you. 

One of the Bullet Points was to let listeners know that as a $60 “friend” you would get programs by Jim Hightower, the “God is Great” debate, Naomi Klein, etc. None of these have ever been played for all to hear! Except the teaser portions! 

Management’s defacto gag rule on the LSB and democratic governance is demonstrated in many ways. They and their LSB supporters, previously KPFAForword, and now Concerned Listeners (CL) desired to let the LSB Show disappear a couple of years ago and I took it upon myself to make sure that didn’t happen. Since I have left the LSB a few shows have not been produced. Seldom does the LSB Show get much, if any, on air promotion. It is often not mentioned on the website list of upcoming programs. On a few occasions when the LSB Show landed during a fund drive it was preempted despite my offer to have the show do fundraising with our audience. The preempted show times were given to members of the previously secret management strategy group exposed by Brian Edwards-Tiekert’s infamous e-mail that suggested,  “dismantling the LSB” and the Karl Rove practice  “how do we make our enemies own the problems that are to come?" Perfect examples of anti-transparency and avoiding accountability! Why do you think KPFA doesn’t have a wide open call-in talk show? 

The following people were in that group that was discussing “dismantling the LSB” and blaming all the problems on their enemies: current IGM Lemlem Rijio, IPD Sasha Lilley, LSB Treasurer Brian Edwards-Tiekert, and two CL folks from that group are on the Pacifica National Board (PNB), Bonnie Simmons and Chair of the PNB, Sherry Gendelman. 

The LSB meetings generally don’t get the bylaws required multiple prime time on-air notices. At a KPFA Peace Awards event, shortly after the 2006 LSB election, there was no mention of the LSB or the just completed election. Management only invited their LSB supporters, despite publicly promising to invite the entire LSB, after not doing so the previous year.  La Varn Williams (LSB and PNB treasurer) and I (chair of the LSB) were not invited. We were allowed to attend when they didn’t have enough people and made an announcement about it a couple days before the event. 

Management has eliminated democratic centers of power at the station. The Program Council (PC), made up of listeners, staff, LSB members and management, used to have democratic decision making power regarding new programs and review of old programs. When Sasha Lilley was appointed IPD, she eliminated the PC power over programming. That power had been in effect for several years and had been confirmed by an LSB motion in May 2004 at the same time the LSB voted to support the PC’s decision to move Democracy Now! to prime time, 7-8 a.m. and move the morning show  to 8-10. I believe that those two decisions mark the time where this management group consolidated their anti-listener democracy attitude. Their group wanted total control of the program grid! They have also refused to recognize the Unpaid Staff Organization, (200-plus unpaid staff members) despite a vote by both the LSB and the PNB to recognize it. 


Richard Phelps is a former chair of the KPFA Local Station Board.