American Friends Service Committee
Patrica Watson, Editor
Sara Burke, Assistant Editor
Pat Farren, Founding Editor
2161 Massachusetts Ave.
Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.
What's Up with Pacifica?
Chuck Rosina is a freelance media technician, specializing in field audio. He also records and produces audio art CDs with his band Urban Ambience, and provides similar services for other musicians. <Chuck@wmbr.mit.edu>
With lockouts, summary firings, and now a reporter's strike, or boycott (depending on who you talk to), Pacifica is in turmoil. The crisis has grown into a situation where its very existence may be at stake.
I first became aware of Pacifica in the late '60s. I was a teenager, growing up in New York City. Friends turned me onto WBAI. As I became active in the anti-war movement, I also began volunteering at the station. At first, I worked in the mail room, stuffing envelopes, but ultimately I learned the ways of radio production, and did some live and pre-recorded programs. By now I was in college, and my work at WBAI counted as independent study towards my Mass Communications degree.
In 1949, Lou Hill, a Pacifist in the '40s, had an idea for creating a radio station that would not be funded by advertising sponsors, but rather by listeners. He founded KPFA, the first listener-sponsored radio station in the country, and Pacifica radio was born.
For 50 years, Pacifica stood against the grain, and for free speech. In the '50s, they did not kowtow to the Communist witch-hunts of McCarthy, and ran commentary critical of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. The Pacifica stations gave in-depth coverage to the Civil Rights struggle, and often aired speeches by Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and such. In the mid-'60s, they gave time to anti-war activists like Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, long before mainstream media ever dared utter a word against our Vietnam policy. WBAI aired a nightly program called "The War Summary," which included reports from Hanoi through the French Press Agency. They did not taint their reports with such euphemisms as "enemy."
By this time, Pacifica had grown to five stations around the country--the maximum allowed at the time. And although the stations shared philosophy and sometimes tape, they still acted largely independently in their local areas. In the mid-'70s, Pacifica opened its Washington Bureau. At first, a couple of reporters fed stories by phone to the Pacifica stations. (KPFA in Berkeley; KPFK in Los Angeles; WBAI in New York City; KPFT in Houston; & WPFW in Washington, DC) Eventually, the feeds grew into a newscast. By the late '80s, Pacifica was producing a half hour nightly newscast. With NPR satellite distribution, they were able to deliver better quality, and attract affiliates. WMBR joined in the spring of 1991.
In the mid-'90s, the Pacifica board changed its by-laws, removing local station input, and created a self-appointed board. The five individual stations no longer had representation, and thereby, no longer had a say in Pacifica policy. This is where the current battle started.
Suddenly the Board was concerned with such statistics as rating shares and property value of their stations. With no local board members, they were not accountable to the local stations or their listeners. They instituted a gag rule. The current Pacifica management felt these were internal matters, not meant for public discussion. This is all very alien to the concept of Pacifica's founder, Lou Hill. Some have speculated that the current board sees Pacifica as a liberal version of NPR--Get rid of the radical edge, build up a larger audience, and be more appealing to foundations for grant money (ie, CPB).
Appalling is a word I could use. The concept of listener-sponsorship at Pacifica was so they wouldn't have to rely on grant money. In fact, in earlier days, Pacifica stations refused grant money. But then again, if current Pacifica management spends its financial resources hiring union-busting public relations firms and armed guards at Berkeley flagship KPFA, they need more then just listener contributions.
Pacifica management brought armed guards into KPFA in the spring of 1999, adding much tension to an already tense atmosphere. Nicole Swayer, the popular African-American Program Director, was dismissed. Demonstrations against censorship were already occurring outside the station, yet KPFA could not report on this street action because of the gag rule. Lynn Chadwick, the Executive Director of the Board, insisted this was still an internal political matter, not meant for public discussion.
But the public was discussing it. In fact, Mary Frances Berry, the Chairperson of the Board, held a press conference in Oakland in July about Pacifica. Dennis Bernstien, news producer for KPFA was there with a tape recorder. When he aired the tapes on KPFA later in the day, he was physically removed from the station by the guards. The confrontation took place live on the air. KPFA supporters in the area immediately rushed to the scene, and within minutes more than a hundred angry protesters were in front of the station. Some 50 were arrested on that first night, and KPFA was shut down.
A round-the-clock vigil commenced, called "Camp KPFA." 10,000 people rallied through the streets of Berkeley. Not since the Vietnam War has this community seen such street actions.
I, by chance, just happened to be out there on vacation at the time, and sent back reports from the rallies to WMBR. As an affiliate, we don't have to heed to any gag rule, and with a public affairs program called "No Censorship Radio," we wouldn't have heeded it even if we were supposed to. On Dec. 17th, No Censorship Radio hosted a listener forum about Pacifica, to discuss actions we could take, including dropping our affiliation. Listener response was supportive to our ethics, but ranged widely in ideas for action.
The latest development in the struggle evolves around Pacifica Network News (PNN). This nightly newscast, produced in Washington, is aired on the five Pacifica stations and about 60 affiliates around the country.
Last October, 16 affiliate stations staged a one-day boycott of PNN to protest the on-going centralization of power at the network. Dan Coughlin, then producer of PNN, mentioned it as a news item in the following day's broadcast. He was re-assigned, and is no longer involved in PNN production.
Veteran Verna Avery-Brown, the only African-American woman to anchor a national news cast, resigned in protest. "I saw Dan as a very competent, compassionate news director. All of the factors that you would think management would welcome and embrace in a news director. But because of internal politics--happening throughout the network at that time--those attributes were frowned upon. He was mis-characterized as someone who was supporting the KPFA staffers, and therefore he would not be acting in the best interests of management."
A group of reporters, calling themselves Pacifica Reporters Against Censorship, have called for a three-month strike against PNN, effective Jan. 31, 2000.
In a press release, the journalists state, "We are striking to end censorship of news and public affairs programs throughout the Pacifica network. We could no longer, in good conscience, contribute our work to an institution whose management is destroying Pacifica's proud 50-year tradition of free speech, open debate, and community-controlled radio." The strike affects only the newscast produced by PNN in WashingtonDC. It does not affect any of the local Pacifica stations' news departments."
Eileen Sutton, an organizer for the striking journalists in New York City told me: "We need to spread the word, so that the struggle at Pacifica is understood by a larger number of people not simply as an internal, private labor dispute, or however management has tried to shape this discourse. This is a struggle over the most basic, fundamental issues of censorship and the editorial independence of the sister stations' news divisions and public affairs programs which have also been censored. This is a battle not only to preserve this network in terms of what it's been for the past 50 years, but to stop censorship. That is also a very important goal for us; to reshape how this is talked about both in the left press and the corporate press."
PNN is currently produced by Mark Bevis. He released a statement to network affiliates: "Pacifica Network News is disappointed by the actions of a few individuals to instigate a Reporter's Boycott. Pacifica Network News does not censor reporters' work. Any charges of censorship within Pacifica are misleading and have nothing to do with the Network News. Every news organization decides what to publish or broadcast; that is called news judgement and should not be swayed by any organization or group of 'boycotters' insisting on what should be covered. The only victims of this effort will be listeners. Those reporters taking part are attempting to deny Pacifica's audience the benefit of the Network's unique perspective on the world's events."
On the last point there can be no doubt. It is hard enough to get coverage for progressive causes in the media. To be put into a situation where we deny ourselves access to the only radio outlet that has consistently covered issues of the struggle for justice is very troubling.
There is talk of building an alternative to Pacifica, but these efforts will take time and money to create a nationally produced syndicated newscast with satellite distribution. Meanwhile, are we supposed to just walk away from a network and leave it in the hands of a few elitists who have a vision of liberal NPR style newscasts?
Former anchor-woman Verna Avery-Brown has mixed emotions when responding to my question: "I think everybody will have to search their own hearts for that. My energies and my time are best served elsewhere, I'm not suggesting people abandoned Pacifica and start anew--although this may be the time to do that, as we go into a new millennium. But clearly, upon making that decision, you have to weigh in all of the history behind Pacifica. All of the men and the women that fought, and cried, and bled for those principles that were founded by Louis Hill, that maverick, over 50 years ago."
Lynn Chadwick, Executive Director of the Pacifica Board, was unavailable for comment. In fact, she can't even be located. She moved the operations office out of Berkeley, to Washington, DC, in the middle of the night. As of this writing, there is no official location for the Pacifica offices. PNN producer Bevis defends Ms. Chadwick's move and secrecy. He told me that she has been continually harassed. "She had to change her cell-phone three times." If he knew of her whereabouts, or how to contact her, he was not letting it be known.
It started in 1949 as an experiment on the practically unknown
FM band. It grew into a network of five stations and more than
60 affiliates, with progressive political coverage of issues important
to us. Now it has been cooped into closed-door polices and a management
board that is accountable to nobody--not even it's
listeners, who are still its chief sponsors. We, who have supported
this network financially and voluntarily for over half a century,
deserve better. The battle to save Pacifica is not yet lost, and
it is far from over.
For more information, contact the following organizations.
Support the Pacifica Strikers
This is to let you know that the majority of active free-lance contributors to the Pacifica Network News, produced in Washington, D.C., are officially on strike for 3 months as of January 31, 2000. They are striking to protest on-going censorship of the news and public-affairs programming at the 50-year-old community-radio network, a network founded on freedom of speech and open debate.
We ask you to support them by not filing stories for Pacifica Network News during their strike, and to please forward this to your colleagues at other media outlets. More information can be found at the strikers' web page, along with an on-line press kit at: www.savepacifica.net/strike.
If you would like to add your name (or your organization's name) in support of the strike, you can do so on their web site. Pacifica management is trying hard to discredit the strikers, and circulating lies in its press release about the job action. Please give this your utmost consideration.
Sincerely, Jonathan Tasini
President, National Writers Union
National Office West, 337 - 17th Street, Suite 101, Oakland, CA 94612-3351
National Office East, 113 University Place, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10003-4527
(From: Brian Burch <email@example.com>)