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Commentary :: Media Criticism

A Network at War

Since ostensiblly winning a campaign to recapture the small progressive Pacifica network that spanned years, involving at one time three seperate lawsuits, and 10's of thousands of its active listerners, the tiny network is once again at war with itself.....Having, along with senior producer Ryme Kakthouda, joined in filing complaints of discrimination on basis of national origin and ethnicity at the last meeting of our national board in NYC,

(dc.indymedia.org/newswire/display/120524/index.php)

and with women angry about sexism, and the networks failure to do anything more than deny its existence, planning an actual march on Berkley to file similar complaints next month, all matters likely to head into litigation within a matter of weeks now, this seemed like a good time to carve up all the sacred cows.
dennis.jpg
I'm not winning any popularity contests at Pacifica anyway so why not? Before I do so I'd like to thank Alex Strinberg for inspiring me to write this peice by asking me a simple question namely "Do
I beleive in listener democracy?" To which I gave a simple answer...no. But if my answer was a simple one,
my reasons are not .

Each and every one of our stations has millions of potential listeners in its signal area. Each one of
those listeners has in a certain way, at one time or another, 'voted' for us. By choosing to listen to one
of our programs at some time or other. All Arbitron gives us is a guess as to how many do so at once at
any given time. Most of our potential listeners have probablly heard us at some or other. Of those who have some tune in more or less regularly for one or more of our program offerings. Weather they listen regularly
or sporadicly, each and every time a listener tunes in our signal he or she has 'voted' to listen to us. That
is no small thing. Collectively these listeners have hundreds of FM radio signals to chose from, and saying
that even avoids the wider question of how many different entertainment options they have available.
Now radio of course is free so most of these listeners, including most who tune in regularly, have
never and will never give us any of their time or money. If I recall correctly it is estimated that less
than 10% in fact do so. Of this small group of people most have no interest in our foundations governance.
In fact just over 10% voted our last election. Even out of these people, who themselves represent only
about 1% of the listenership and a 10th of the revenue, only a small fraction are interested enough
to go to candidate forums or have attended even one governance meeting. Those who run for governance
boards, attend regular business meetings, any fly, drive, and ride buses back and forth accross the
nation for national board meetings as I myself have done are not 'the community', nor even 'thelisteners', we are small groups of media activists with competing adgendas trying, with varying degrees of sucess, to exert influence upon the foundation. The outcome of our collective efforts has not been good governance, but institutional anarchy. As one activist described the board at the NY meeting it is 'a whole
which is less than the sum of its parts'.

Nor has the institution of this organizational chaos come cheaply. The NY meeting is reported to have cost
some $70,000 dollars. Multiply that by five. Now add to that the cost of the elections themselves...and the
cost of special events like the coming bylaws convention. On top of these costs each station is
forced to give air time to the candidates running in station elections and preempt regularly scheduled
programing to do so. It doesn't matter that 90% of the membership would gladly forego this oppurtunity to
become more involved in governance...or that they never fail to remind us of their sentiments with phone
calls, emails, and outright cancellations of their memberships. At the end of that process a board is finally seated. But it doesn't end there. Those to go down in defeat in the election and their most militant
supporters now fill the chairs to demand seats on committees and to 'hold the board accountable'. That
is to say to scream loudly when those to win the election seek to implement the program they promised
to enact, which the others of course are just as committed to fight. Only a few board members have any
organizational history and know the issues and currently most opposed the strike at all! by the
time the other good souls comprehend anything at all about the working of the foundation, its time for a new
election and many of them are gone. To say that still ignores that even after the election our long
suffering listenership is forced to endure yet more LSB shows and national board meetings broadcast live
for their enjoiment.

Nor as we all know is the sum total of this a well governed institution. Local autonomy has come to mean
that we now have 5 foundations instead of one, each being torn apart by factional infighting over control
of the budget and airwaves. The ED (who resigned recently) had to appease the local GM's who in turn need the support of entrenched staff weather in NY, DC, or Berkley to stay in office.It's these staff involved in governance who most often constitute the largest group to have any institutional memory, and as they already hold institutional power their adgendas are identical even though their politics may be diametrically opposed from one station to the next. Simply put those to have institutional power, that being control of airtime and budget, wish to keep it. Those who lack institutional power wish to access it. The result is that in a time of large scale war unpreceedented since Vietnam, all of our organization energy is consumed in arguements over
points of process.

I do not beleive that democracy is the highest ideal of this foundation. Some of our active members are
reactionaries like Colin Powell. Now I don't care that he can, and has, given us $500 he opposes our mission.
I don't want such people to participate in our decision making just because they paid their nickle.
As many of you were, I too was part of the Pacifica campaign. It was not to give Colin Powell a voice in
foundation governance, nor even to have such a voice myself, that I joined that campaign. I did so to
facillate certain outcomes, and to hold this accountable to its mission especially to local
communities, not to enshrine a process that I have never known to do anything more than to legitimate the
status quo. At the end of the day however it has left us with Ambrose I. Lane, who opposed the campaign, as both chairman of the board and CEO, since June 1st.

For two years until being forciblly disbanded we at the DC co-op put forward and implemented a different conception of 'a democratic Pacifica' one which put the community back into community radio. Rather than stations where as one member put at the national meeeting in NYC this year 'you have to wait for
someone to die to get on the air' our open trainning initiative aired some 120 new voices from this
community in the 2 years before its cancellation in October of 2004. We have gotten away from a community
based approach to radio, and opening our finance committee to everyone while closing are air to anyone won't make it better either. Not a single young person that I have met wants to attend governance meetings and argue about such topics as 'directors inspection rights'. They want to get on the air and talk about contemporary movements for social change, to 'spin', and perform and that is not happening. Instead we have a death grip on our listenership. The average member is 52 and we have next to zero growth. Moreover
the current structure makes any change difficult, and a complete format change anywhere impossible.

Rather than the insane and innane expense of a 'democratic process' that has enshrined institutional
chaos as the apogee of sound governance why not 'democratize' the damn airwaves? Instead of making
sure Colin Powell has a voice in our coverage of the war how about assuring us that our mission will be
upheld! Instead of governance by random people who've paid $25.00 how about opening the studio to the
community and letting those to create the work listeners 'vote' for from the janitor to Amy decide
what is to be decided? Instead of a tiered and secret wage system how about everyone gets paid the same and you're either full time, half time, three quarter time, or a stringer? Instead of voting why not make
decisions by 80% consensus? If nothing happens without broad agreement people will either agree or the ED and the station managers will run it until they do, its their choice. Hell if more than 20% of our listeners
walk out, or we bury ourselves in 10's of millions in litigation, we can turn the lights off anyway. Instead of
paying staff who come to work listening to Rush Limbaugh, or cheer for CIA backed coups in places like
Hatti, how about getting volunteers committed to fight for a better world? That doesn't mean a politics check
at the door. In the DC Co-op it just means that if you're all for the war Ryme's gonna assign you to
cover the Kwansa celebration not the state department, you'll still be on the air and we don't have to
paralyze ourselves with infighting. What we have now sucks! This ain't freedom folks, a better world is possible!
 
 


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Re: A Network at War

> --- FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE ---
>
> Sex Discrimination Suit Filed Against KPFA
>
> Community radio station KPFA was served on Monday with a lawsuit filed by Noelle Hanrahan, former producer and co-host of Flashpoints, the station’s drive-time public affairs broadcast. Also named in the complaint are Pacifica Foundation, Flashpoints executive producer Dennis Bernstein, and ex-general manager, Jim Bennett.
>
> Among the charges in the complaint are sexual harassment and sex discrimination, retaliation, wrongful termination, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
>
> Hanrahan, three-time winner of the Golden Reel Award, one of public radio’s highest honors, was hired in July 2000 as a temporary producer on Flashpoints, and elevated to co-host a year later. She alleges that in October, 2001, Bernstein informed her, “I’m going to torture you until you quit or I force you to leave.? Hanrahan informed General Manager Bennett of the incident, stating that she believed the actions were the result of sexual harassment and sex discrimination.
>
> Over the next five months, Hanrahan repeatedly requested of Bennett and others at both KPFA and Pacifica that her allegations be investigated and that disciplinary action be taken. During that period, according to the complaint, Hanrahan was exposed to an escalating pattern of harassment from Bernstein, who refused to talk with her, refused to inform her of information necessary to perform her job, and locked her out of editorial meetings. In one incident a master tape of an interview Hanrahan was preparing to air was erased, in an alleged attempt to sabotage her work and force her to resign.
>
> Throughout this period, according to the complaint, Bennett and others conducted no investigation and took no disciplinary action against Bernstein, despite Hanrahan’s repeated requests to management. At one point Hanrahan allegedly was informed by Bennett that, “If you file a grievance it will only get a lot worse.? Not long afterward management demoted Hanrahan, allotting her only 40% of the Flashpoints program.
>
> On November 20, 2001, Bernstein verbally attacked Hanrahan on the air, informing listeners she had made false allegations against him and was trying to take over the radio program, encouraging listeners to call KPFA and call for her dismissal. Less than three months later, Hanrahan was placed on involuntary leave and banned from the KPFA building.
>
> Citing KPFA’s failure to implement an effective procedure for reporting, investigating or addressing complaints of discrimination or harassment, the complaint alleges that prior to Hanrahan’s hiring, a number of other female employees had complained of Bernstein’s sexual harassment, discrimination and workplace violence. Those female employees resigned or were forced out of their positions as a result.
>
> “The fact that women’s voices are being silenced by gender-based harassment and intimidation is cause for deep concern,? Hanrahan stated. "My every attempt to have my grievances addressed was met with retaliation and a wholesale cover-up. Sadly, I was left with no other option but to turn to the courts for redress."
>
> Also cited in the complaint are a number of incidents of workplace violence by male KPFA employees. Unlike Hanrahan, those employees still work at KPFA.
>
> A week ago, another female Flashpoints producer, Solange Echeverría resigned, citing abusive behavior by Bernstein as the cause. In an open letter to the Local Station Board, Echeverría states:
>
> “ . . . I was FORCED OUT. I was left with no choice - I reported unfair treatment, favoritism, abuse and hostile working conditions on the Flashpoints program - perpetrated by Executive Producer Dennis Bernstein and I was met with complete disrespect, and disregard when I reported the abuse to the [now] General Manager, Roy Campenella.?
>
> Complaint online at www.purpleberets.org/pdf/firstamendedcomplaint.pdfhttp://www.purpleberets.org

>
> CONTACTS
>
> Tanya Brannan, Purple Berets
> 707.953.9412 www.purpleberets.org
>
> Wendy E.. Musell, Attorney
> 415.445.0146
>
> Elisa J. Stewart, Attorney
> 415.552.9900
 

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