Sunday, May 29, 2016
A Crevasse but No Bond: Pacifica in Exile
CREVASSE, BUT NO BOND
Berkeley-In California, Alameda Superior Court denied Siegel and Yee's motion to require the two listener-member plaintiffs in Yeakey vs. Pacifica to provide a $50,000 bond. The concise denial can be seen here and states: "The court concludes the plaintiffs are not required to post a bond because they have not pled any derivative claims". Siegel and Yee have since filed a demurrer, yet another procedural feint that runs up Pacifica's legal costs. Yeakey vs. Pacifica seeks to remove 7 directors whose three-year elected delegate terms expired in December of 2015 and 2 affiliate representatives who are not connected to stations currently affiliated with Pacifica.
The NY restraining order request (Young and Brown vs. Pacifica) to seat 4 NY directors who have been excluded from the Pacifica National Board since January, completed a final hearing on Friday May 20th. Jurisdictional and procedural objections raised by Jesse Siegel, the brother of unauthorized Pacifica corporate counsel Dan Siegel, were thrown out. Judge Knipfel will issue a decision on the merits.
If you would like to support either or both of the legal complaints filed by Pacifica members, you can visit the Clean Up Pacifica Project for more information.
Pacifica Interim Exec Director Lydia Brazon continues to insist the network's next board election will open nominations on June 1st, 13 days after she finally hired an election supervisor. As of May 27th, Pacifica's election site contains not a single reference to the 2016 election, and candidate nomination applications are not available. At press time, both the elections site and www.pacifica.org itself were down. A thoughtful assessment of the board election process and changes that might make it cheaper and more effective was prepared by a working group on Pacifica's election committee (you can see it here). Board majority stalwart Cerene Roberts launched a filibuster to prevent the committee from discussing, much less implementing, any of the recommendations prior to the proclaimed start of the 2016 election. A portion of Robert's lengthy diatribe (in which she compels an agreement not to decide anything) can be heard here.
Pacifica's financial turmoil and the direct threat to assets, including the 65 year old historic sound archive, has drawn national attention with the Library of Congress' Radio Preservation Task Force setting up an emergency advisory board to "assist in Pacifica's efforts to preserve and process materials". The letter from Josh Sheppard, the national director of the Radio Preservation Task Force at the Library, can be read here. Pacifica had recently threatened significant cuts to archival preservation staffing at the Pacifica Archives.
The April 2016 income statement can be found here. It shows the network dropping quickly into an overall operating deficit of $-550,000 for the year (a more than half a million drop in a single month) - with six figure deficits at WBAI (-$352,000), KPFA (-$222,000) and WPFW (-$203,000). CFO Sam Agarwal commented on the late payroll on May 15th, indicating DC station WPFW took money from a restricted grant to cover the payroll. Agarwal also stated there were "major deficiencies" with the 2015 accounting records including "“For the past two years, we don’t know what the balances are that the stations owe to the national offices or what in turn we owe to other entities”. You can hear his comments here. Pacifica's 2014 audit has not yet surfaced, despite rumors of its imminent completion for the last three months. Both the 2014 and 2015 audits must be completed to re-establish eligibility for CPB funding and most institutional grants.
The Pacifica National Board will debate 4 bylaws amendments at their next meeting on June 2nd. The four proposed amendments, which if they are passed by the national board will also have to gain the approval of 3 of the 5 local station boards, range from the illegal to the trivial. The most serious of the four seeks to curb directors inspection rights by preventing attorneys or agents of out of state directors from performing inspections. The proposed amendment directly contradicts California Corporations Code Section 6311/6313 and would be voided by a court if challenged. Another proposed amendment wipes out the requirement for delegate candidates to secure the signatures of 15 members in support of their candidacy. A third removes the discretion of the election supervisor to modify deadlines in the election schedule, and a fourth wordsmiths a previous error regarding affiliate director seating. None of the four do anything to substantively improve the network's bylaws - and one is illegal. 900-More substantive bylaws amendments including reducing the size of the national and local boards, bringing meeting notice requirements in alignment with the Communications Act and addressing conflicts of interest for staff directors on the boards, were proposed by minority directors, and rejected by the majority which refused to put them up for a vote.
Berkeley's KPFA was again wracked by a censorship controversy when popular public affairs show Guns and Butter was pulled abruptly prior to broadcast for the second time in a year. The banning was again on the subject of mandatory childhood vaccinations. The guest this time was Dr. Suzanne Humphries and her book Dissolving Illusions: Vaccines Past and Present. Guns and Butter producer/host Bonnie Faulkner posted about the censorship incident on the show's blog. Ironically, Humphries is the guest who was featured several times on KPFA in the aftermath of the 2015 censorship controversy when a Guns and Butter program featuring WBAI broadcaster Gary Null was similarly removed, drawing hundreds of angry comments from listeners and a protest in front of the station. A show KPFA carried with Humphries in 2015 can be heard here. Guns and Butter raised $9,081 for KPFA in 3 hours of fund drive broadcasts during the recently-completed fund drive. Faulkner has been an unpaid producer at KPFA for a decade and a half.
Several local board members objected to the censorship repeat including staff reps Frank Sterling and Anthony Fest. Sterling said he was "very disappointed" and that "I for one want to learn as much as I can about the vaccination controversy. I am very weary of the mainstream media". Fest added "when an edict is issued from behind closed doors, and a veteran programmer is censored without an convincing explanation, that chips away at our "free speech radio" and calls out for a response". Listener rep Sharon Adams added "The KPFA broadcast signal reaches some of the most educated people in America, and I believe we can trust the listener to listen and either agree or disagree with what's being said. KPFA does not need to act as a gatekeeper, and should not assume that it knows better. It's quite obvious that big-pharma and mega-corporations don't care about the actual health of the people or the planet. I think there is room for debate on this subject, and I think KPFA should trust its listeners to make the appropriate decisions".
The controversy in Houston about the "rescinded resignation" of Maria Elena Castellanos, which was "taken back" a month after it was submitted to prevent the seating of independent Kevin White. It then multiplied into a motion attempting to suspend 4 other independent members of KPFT's board for the rest of the year, George Reiter, Teresa Allen, Hank Lamb and national board member Bill Crosier - purportedly for making email statements that the resignation could not be taken back a month after submitted. Pacifica's bylaws state board seats become vacant upon the occurrence of a resignation. White has been outspoken about the twisting of the bylaws and his exclusion from the KPFT board by a factional majority. He states "The core of the argument is the idea that the words "resign" and "withdrawal" have two separate meanings. If I may postulate this further, "resigning" is covered by our bylaws and it cannot be taken back, but "withdrawal" is not in the bylaws and one may come back from that whenever one wishes. This is not just about one chair hijacking an elected board members seat, this includes everyone who voted with him. Secondly, I've been informed that until just recently Maria Elena hasn't attended a board meeting since last summer. There are clearly different rules for those who vote the way the chair likes and everyone else. Lydia Brazon must have amazing powers of influence to confuse so many people into breaking the law in so ridiculous a manner. When I'm at the next meeting, I move that we transform the complete waste of time LSB and start working to improve the station with a money-making working board that sets out to make money for the station to pay its bills."
Bill Crosier's lengthy response to the motion to suspend him from Pacifica governance for the rest of the year can be read here.
In response to the latest in the long series of witch hunts, KPFK listener and Pacifica in Exile reader Barbara Hensley commented "I have seen this for myself since the year 2000. For a very long time, Pacifica has been infiltrated by those seeking to destroy what Pacifica stands for, and to render all of the stations useless and to make them into vulnerable products for the powerful to scoop up and buy. Let me say this, I have never ever been to a peaceful meeting of any kind involving KPFK or any other so represented entity of Pacifica in my life. This is a long-term goal of unseen and very powerful forces to render the voices of KPFK useless, and replace them with mediocre pundits of questionable talents. It is time for pacifists to become warriors or all will be lost. You fight for those things that you love".
The network's Spring fund drive cycle this month has been troubled. KPFA came up slightly short on a $650,000 goal, with the station carrying a $222,000 operating deficit for the year at April 30, the second largest operating deficit of the five Pacifica stations. At KPFK, the fund drive was truncated, with the first and smaller half making a modest $450,000 take (about 6 weeks of the station's operating expenses) and a longer supplementary fund drive scheduled to begin on June 20th with a $500,000+ goal. In Houston, KPFT was also coming up somewhat short of fund drive goals. In New York at WBAI, the crevasse the station fell into in 2015 (when listener support shrunk by $962,000 or 42% in a single year), is continuing with fund drive sheets showing an average of $8,000 per day. (A sampling for the period May 18-25 can be seen here). There has been a financial tsunami for WBAI under Wilkinson and successor Lydia Brazon. WBAI listener support declined from $2.2 million to $1.3 million in the 12 month period of October 2014 to September of 2015.
The network is also having trouble integrating the growing number of syndicated programs while not syndicating the fund drives causing all kinds of on-air confusion. To take a couple of samples from May 12th (yes all three are from the same day): Amy Goodman pitches dinner with herself to KPFA listeners, apparently completely unaware that she is being simulcast on KPFK which she fails to mention even once. At 8:00am the same morning, KPFK employee Sonali Kolhatkar pitches for KPFA, which does not employ her, while in Los Angeles, KPFA employee Mitch Jeserich pitches for KPFK on KPFA's payroll. A few hours later on WBAI, LA employee Margaret Prescod requests donations for a memorial in a Los Angeles park from NY listeners 3,000 miles from Los Angeles, and enthusiastically thanks KPFK listeners for their support. This past week, KPFK listeners were forced to listen to KPFA's fund drive 4-5 hours a day after their own station's fund drive had ended (at 6am, 9am, 10am, 6pm and 2x a week at 8am), thus shortening by 25% their precious 4 week break between the end of the last fund drive in LA and the start of the next one on June 21st.
Email marketing, something the stations have struggled to do consistently, is still error-prone, with KPFK's latest folio containing two broken links in the GM report asking people to listen online and donate online, and a broken link to subscribe to the film club, and KPFA's donation appeal twice referring to "renown writer" Steven Hill.
KPFK's independent majority, who won an overwhelming victory in the 2015 election, have been frustrated with Wilkinson-appointed general manager Leslie Radford's refusal to reverse programming changes that have demonstrably reduced revenue in affected slots without reducing payroll costs, including drive time at 8:00am and late nights from midnight to 3am. Figures from the latest fund drive confirm downward trends with Kolhatkar's two-day-a-week program raising $14,560 to the frequently pre-empted replacement Uprising programs raising only $8,345, 57% less. In the overnight block, listener support totals for Safe Harbor, a melange of midnight to 3am programs based on the liberal use of on-air profanity, totaled an anemic $1,790 after 33 hours of broadcast. The Safe Habor numbers represent a 43% decline from the low donation levels in the previous February fund drive. The former all-night program, Something's Happening, now relegated to an abbreviated 3am to 6am slot, collected $19,359 or almost 12 times the receipts. The eclectic Something's Happening, a Los-Angeles institution for decades, was the highest-rated overnight radio program in the nation's second largest media market, including both commercial and non-commercial competitors, before Radford sabotaged one of Pacifica's only programs reaching a mass audience. During GM Radford's last report to the listener on May 23rd, she refused to address direct questions from listeners about the changes and basically hung up on a potential donor. The call-in session can be heard here.
A timeline of the now two year old coup by the Siegel/Brazon faction can be seen here.