Public Comment

Let’s Get Real About Community Media

By Tracy Rosenberg
Thursday August 27, 2009 - 01:41:00 PM

It’s 2009, and the first community radio station in the country, KPFA, born right here in Berkeley in 1949, is entering its election cycle once again. And I feel sick.  

Ten years ago, for better or worse, I upended my life and camped on Martin Luther King Jr. Way for the better part of three weeks. I joined a motley crew of Telegraph Avenue street kids, long-time Bay Area activists, filmmakers, students, artists and musicians to occupy the sidewalk in front of an atrocity: a community institution walled off from the community by a bunch of insiders who thought they owned it.  

They didn’t. We the people did.  

Today I became aware of legal papers filed against the Pacifica Foundation. Again. 

Another blow against an idea that I love and believe in with all my heart: that communication rights belong to all of us, not just the elite and privileged.  

I looked at these papers filed by Concerned Listener plaintiff Sherry Gendelman and then I went to the website this Concerned Listeners group put up and what did I see there?  

The Free Speech Radio logo of 1999.  

Let me say this very clearly: Not in my name.  

Not in my name: These repeated lawsuits about control and power.  

Not in my name: Calling the police into a place of pacifism to arrest and assault a young woman, as happened last summer to a long-time volunteer producer.  

Not in my name: A Concerned Listeners slate of 10 candidates that is 70 percent male, 70 percent white and 100 percent over the age of 50.  

Reasonable people can disagree over issues of policy. And it may be that some people allied with Concerned Listeners mean well.  

But the fact of the matter is that community media can’t afford to be pummeled to death by lawsuits.  

Community media can’t afford to call in the police to intimidate workers when managers feel flouted.  

Community media can’t afford to be governed by one generation that dominates the election process with expensive slate mailers and prestigious endorsements based on professional ties younger and poorer people don’t have.  

If what happened in 1999 mattered to you, if you understand there is no reaching out to younger people without offering them seats at the table, if you’re appalled at the indiscriminate use of police, then Concerned Listeners is not for you.  

There is an alternative. Independents for Community Radio (ICR) is an affinity group of activists and organizers from a new generation working with dissident incumbents for renewal at KPFA.  

I spend my days (and sometimes my nights and weekends, too) fighting for independent media because I know it can and does change the world when unheard voices get heard.  

But that cannot happen where is constant destructive litigation. That cannot happen when vulnerable people feel the threat of police intervention. That cannot happen when the established block the way of the up and coming.  

Independents for Community Radio (ICR) will bring a fresh spirit, some youthful energy, independent media experience, and a commitment to openness and inclusiveness to KPFA.  

It’s time for a change.  


Tracy Rosenberg is the executive director of Media Alliance and a KPFA Local Board Member. 


(On July 22, 2009, Sherry Gendelman (the top vote-getter for the Concerned Listener slate in 2007), filed suit against the Pacifica Foundation in Alameda County Superior Court as one of four plaintiffs. The suit concerns the removal of a national board member from the Washington, D.C. area. National board members are required to serve locally for one year prior to going on to the national board. The person in question had only served for eight months. On July 24, Alameda County Superior Court declined the request for injunctive relief and did not force the seating of Campbell Johnson on the Pacfica National Board.)