Brian Edwards-Tiekert, a reporter at KPFA, the board treasurer and power on the Concerned Listeners faction, says there is a failure of transparency at KPFA. I don’t agree. What he is doing is adequately transparent.
Edwards-Tiekert is still going strong with his line that money seemed about to be taken from the KPFA bank account by Pacifica, that the business manager—brand spanking new in that position, by the way—got just such an impression from our bank, and those in charge at Pacifica didn’t respond to his two e-mails asking for information immediately. What’s a treasurer to do? Tell the board? Nah, tell the world that KPFA is being robbed.
What Edwards-Tiekert doesn’t bother to say is that there might be valid reasons why he didn’t get a prompt response to his e-mails. That the two people involved were out of town and he has spent years playing nasty political games with them might be grounds for their not hopping right to it. His not getting a speedy reply, he says, validates his irresponsibly running to the media with a story that would stop any rational person from giving money to KPFA.
While the presses were rolling printing Edward-Tiekert’s larders being raided story, several board members were meeting with Edwards-Tiekert and the new business manager to review the budget. Not so much as a whisper to us that Pacifica was emptying our coffers. Of course not; we all knew that is not the case. The public didn’t. So there it was the next morning as front page news.
Since then there have been many commentaries back and forth in these pages. The end result is that confusion reigns, as I’ve since learned when talking to some longtime progressives and KPFA donors. Since these same people are about to elect a new KPFA board, such confusion is dangerous to the station.
Here is what is really happening. Pacifica is not taking any money from KPFA. The station does, however, have budget woes. The economy has turned sour and donations are down. We’ve been running a $300,000 budget deficit known since the beginning of our fiscal year that ends this month. The powers that hold sway over the station and board, Concerned Listeners, have been running things for the last three years. Pacifica had ordered them to make budget cuts and they didn’t.
Pacifica is doing better financially. WBAI, our sister station in New York that has been negatively affecting the network’s finances, has had fund drives this year that did far better than the year before. The national office, board and WBAI are in new hands as of 2009 and those who were in power for the prior three years, Concerned Listeners and their allies, are history on the national level. Reports are that staff morale at WBAI is on the upswing.
You’re probably wondering what might have triggered the urge to send misinformation loose in the progressive world. Edwards-Tiekert also doesn’t bother mentioning that enough staff members no longer want him as one of their representatives on the board that there is a recall election in the works to remove him from that position. The KPFA board has several seats that are elected by the staff from their ranks. The staff’s desire to get rid of him predates the story he keeps putting out in the media that is damaging to KPFA, so a white knight galloping to the rescue image might be useful.
Here’s another educated guess. Not only is Edwards-Tierkert subject to a recall election, it is board election season and member ballots will arrive any day. (I am a member of KPFA’s board, and in the interest of full disclosure, running for reelection.) His group, Concerned Listeners, have been the majority faction on the board for three years. They have little to entice in terms of candidates this year. Their slate offers up 70 percent white males over the age of 60. They have already provided the board with two aging brothers as well as a husband, wife, and one of their former employees. Look closely and you realize that their slate is loaded with retired bureaucrats. It’s an outdated notion and one that reeks of the typical corporate board of directors.
They are up against a dynamic young team, Independents for Community Radio. We’ve got 20- and 30-year-olds, and 70 percent are female and people of color. There are a couple of older media and KPFA hands thrown in for experience and continuity.
This is all likely election fun and games on the part of Edwards-Tiekert and Concerned Listerners, but it comes at a critical juncture for KPFA. Not only are we running a budget deficit and losing both donors and listeners, we need to move into the modern online world and do a better job of providing radio that appeals to a younger audience as well as the diverse community in which we all live. We need to draw on the voices and expertise so readily available in our marvelous Bay Area in a more inclusive sweep and not limit ourselves to a small and aging world of political and radio cronyism.
There is also a fair degree of general unrest and dissatisfaction with KPFA management since the Unpaid Staff Organization was ‘derecognized’ two year’s ago and one of their members hurt while arrested at the station a year ago for no good reason. Roughly 70 percent of all the programs KPFA airs are produced and hosted by UPSO members. They need to be fearless in pursuing new program ideas, not nervously looking over their shoulders. They need to be treated with respect. Speaking plainly, we need a new board majority that will allow what has been forbidden for three years: Serious and respectful discussion of the problems we face and space for exploring creative new solutions. Whether a board or staff member is a power force shouldn’t matter if they have ideas to offer. The audience is shrinking and we’re running out of time.
KPFA has a mission to provide news, views, voices and expertise not available elsewhere in the media and reflective of our whole community. We could do so much better at it and we may not get another chance.
Sasha Futran is a radio and print journalist, winner of Project Censored most censored story of the year award, former minority member of the KQED board who stopped the Robert Mondavi infomercial from being produced.