nettime's_roving_correspondent on Fri, 26 Feb 1999 08:42:35 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> making Radio pacifica mainstream


Pacifica's Fate

We are just hours before the Berkeley meetings that could
either see an invigorated progressive listener-sponsored
radio network or could spell the neutering of Pacifica,
turning it into a pale carbon-copy of NPR and PBS. The
three-day national board meeting is now fully aware--thanks
in part to our efforts at CounterPunch--that its actions are
being followed by an alert and potentially outraged

In brief, the national board will decide whether to
sterilize itself in self-perpetuating autonomy or listen to
increasingly insistent suggestions from the Pacifica
audience that it not forget the primacy of Pacifica's
mission.  These premises are enunciated relentlessly every
time a Pacifica station wants to raise money. Over the past
month here at CounterPunch-one of whose listening posts is
in Berkeley-we have been listening to the fund raisers of
KPFA telling the enormous pool of listeners across the Bay
Area that Pacifica is indeed in a unique relationship with
its listeners, nurtured by them and attentive to their
diverse interests. But of course, as we laid out at great
length in a recent CounterPunch ("The Neutering of
Pacifica"), over the last seven years Pacifica has been
dragged by its board into a bruising and often damaging
encounter with cultural and organizational priorities which
owe more to the Fortune 500 than to the democratic and
radical ideals that characterize the best of the Bay Area
and which inspired Pacifica's founder Lewis Hill.

CounterPunch's initial article elicited an enormous
response. The chair of the board, Mary Francis Berry, has
surely become aware that the sessions at the end of February
are of tremendous public concern. Intellectuals with the
immense stature on the progressive left of Noam Chomsky,
Howard Zinn and Edward Herman have written to her expressing
their concern. (See below). The CounterPunch editors--
angrily excoriated Larry Bensky for having the impertinence
to refer to his own career gyrations at Pacifica--have had
the amusing experiences of having heard their own speeches
used upwards of a dozen times by broadcasters uneasily aware
that if they were to discuss the content of CounterPunch's
recent reporting on Pacifica their jobs would be at risk. Of
the crucial elements in CounterPunch's reporting of the
Pacifica story none is surely more important than this: what
we are seeing is a put-up sham ultimatum hatched by
Pacifica's former manager Pat Scott and Robert Coonrod head
of CPB, and a former executive of Voice of America and Radio
Marti. It is the claim of the Pacifica governing board that
they have no option but to curtail the board's democratic
accountability at Pacifica. In support of this position they
have mustered the flimsiest of rationales and the most
self-serving of legal opinions.

Legal sources consulted by CounterPunch have had absolutely
no hesitation in saying that it would not take more than a
few minutes of imaginative reflection to come up with half a
dozen structures that would answer CPB's concerns and still
address the all important considerations of democratic
accountability to its listeners by Pacifica. The Pacifica
board, headed by Berry, should not get ideas above their
station. They are not only the custodian of enormously
valuable properties, they are the custodians of an
enormously vibrant idea: the idea that a progressive radio
network can be receptive to eccentric ideas, wayward
attitudes, and disruptive turbulence from below--in short
everything that is anathema to corporate America and to PBS,
NPR and other cultural structures effectively neutered as
far as any substantive dissent is concerned.  Late word
received by CounterPunch indicates that the Pacifica
Governing Board, in a clumsy lunge toward the power it has
long coveted, has ignored the corporate law that governs
by-laws changes in the state of California, where the
Foundation is incorporated. According to attorney Daniel M.
Siegel, the California Corporate Code requires advance
written notice to directors of a corporation 45 days in
advance of any by-laws change such as that being
contemplated by Pacifica. A letter indicating violation of
this provision was sent on February. 23 to Mary Berry and
the Pacifica Board of Directors. We shall see if the
foresight of the drafters of the Corporate Code regarding
the potential venality and duplicity of those entrusted with
corporate power will succeed in forestalling the present
attempt. Those interested in contributing to the legal
effort to block, delay or reverse these changes may send
checks to: Siegel and Yee Trust Account (write "Save
Pacifica" in the memo area of your check), 499 14th Street
#220, Oakland, CA 94612. Ultimately, however, any hope for a
decent outcome to this sorry tale will require widespread,
sustained public awareness and involvement.

So where are we? A broadcast outlet created to support the
ethical decisions of programmers and producers about what
should be broadcast to whom and for what reasons has grown
too large and valuable to be able to protect itself against
assault by its would-be rulers, who aim to make the
important decisions themselves and sell the resulting
product to as many as will buy it.

Stay tuned. (A more detailed account of the maneuvering by
the Pacifica governing board can be found here: Simultaneously
with the crisis at Pacifica, the future of low-watt radio
will be decided in the next few months. The FCC has proposed
that low-watt stations be issued licenses, but there are
enormously important issues still unsettled.  For example,
the FCC is presently saying that anyone associated with
stations defying FCC authority in the past will never get
licenses. In other words, the creative radical pioneers will
be redlined from the start. The FCC is also in the process
of decided what the initial license will cost. Will it be a
matter of a few hundred dollars-the present cost of starting
up a low-watt stations-or will the FCC hike the price to,
let's say, 5 grand. Then no longer will low-watt radio be
something in the reach doughty radical souls in every
community, but something within the dispensation of the
foundations. After all, doughty independent souls don't tend
to have 5 grand in their pockets. And anyone who's ever
written a grant proposal knows full well that doughtiness
and independence don't usually survive the first draft and
certainly not the first review by the grant-masters.

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Letter to Pacifica from Chomsky, Zinn and Herman

February 24, 1999
Dr. Mary Berry, Chair
Pacifica Foundation
1929 Martin Luther King Way
Berkeley, CA 94704

As long-time admirers and supporters of Pacifica, we are
troubled by apparent tendencies toward increased
centralization of power and decision-making that bring
Pacifica closer to the private corporate model. Pacifica's
strength and legitimacy grew from the knowledge and
confidence of its listeners that it was based and directed
from within their respective communities and spoke to their
interests. Its service as an educational resource as well as
a vital outlet for journalism in the public interest arose
from its refusal to focus on market share in the corporate

With the question of the mode of governance at issue in the
forthcoming board meeting, we would strongly urge the board
to celebrate Pacifica's 50th birthday by a firm commitment
to democratic forms of governance and participation. We can
think of no better way to honor a half century of
listener-sponsored radio than by strong endorsement of the
principles that made it possible and successful.

Noam Chomsky,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Edward S. Herman
University of Pennsylvania

Howard Zinn
Boston University
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