Sunday, November 18, 2007

Dear Sasha

We're not taking a position on the candidates for KPFA's listeners' board. For one thing, the election ended on Friday. But listeners of KPFA that are community members and/or readers of this site have repeatedly raised the issue over the last weeks.

On November 13th, Sasha Lilley's "Commentary: KPFA Needs Dialogue, Not Demonization" ran in The Berkeley Daily Planet. We have no problem offering a critique of that.

Despite its mission of dialogue, KPFA has become a venue for increasingly nasty attacks, which exhaust the station and turn listeners off. I would like to set the record straight on a number of allegations that have been printed in these pages and to ask the question: can KPFA afford to be at war with itself?

KPFA has always been a venue for "nasty attacks." It's part of free speech. Let's not turn into a community of school marms.

Many of us have witnessed infighting destroy Left institutions--our own circular firing squads have often damaged our organizations in a way even the Right has not. Neither KPFA nor the American Left can afford such a thing, particularly today. There are different views about how the station should be run--and the differences are legitimate. The question is whether we can discuss those differences without personally demonizing the people who work hard to make KPFA the beacon of hope that it is and must remain.

You are not in charge of the way people discuss anything. What you see as nasty, others may see as straight-forward and vice-versa. And the give and take is what a dialogue is. Your role at KPFA does not include the job description "police what people do and say off the airwaves of KPFA." The claim that the Left destroys itself usually comes about when someone is attempting to silence reality or legitimate concerns. Something worth remembering before going to the well on it next time.

If you personally have concerns about "vilification," you might need to watch your own reactions while on air in reports to the listeners. It's been noted that some calls expressing displeasure over certain programs and/or hosts result in laughter or agreement while others result in a strong defense of the program and/or host. Your negatives have risen since you began doing the report and that is one of the reasons why: your on air reactions.

You're responsible only for your statements. Conduct yourself as you encourage others to if you want but quit issuing embarrassing statements as if we've all been called into the principal's office.

If you're going to discuss attacks against you and Lemlem Rijio, do so. Don't refer to them in passing. None of us have any idea of what you're talking about and don't have the time to go through a mountain of mail to try to find out. Nor should we have to.

You brought up attacks, it's incumbent upon you to state what they were. You're writing for The Berkeley Daily Planet. Not everyone who reads your column will have received KPFA mailings. Using "attacks" and "smear campaigns," raising those flags, without explaining what you are talking about is bad writing for a program director.

Later in your column you will refer to rumors about groups and or factions. Those aren't personal attacks, those are concerns. You may not like the way they are worded since you are included in them but they underscore the passion and support for KPFA. In your current position, you should appreciate both qualities.

Referring to an e-mail sent out by Brian Edwards-Tiekert without identifying him is shoddy. You are in charge of a public radio station -- public -- this isn't a whispered conversation at a bar. Edwards-Tiekert is an adult and he's one who has offered his reasoning behind the e-mail publicly. This isn't anything that hasn't already been aired. By not naming him, you do everyone a disservice because it becomes an issue of: "Who wrote that e-mail?" Quickly turning into, "Did you hear about an e-mail that someone at KPFA wrote? They won't even say who wrote it!"

Regarding the e-mail, you aren't responsible for what Edwards-Tiekert sent you. That's all you needed to state. If you replied to the e-mail in any way, you could release your reply. If you wanted to include or summarize his explanation of the e-mail (which he's explained publicly) that's more than fine. As it is, a public event is turned into a whisper giving the impression that there's something to hide. That's really not fair to Edwards-Tiekert. (Nor was that your intention, but that is how it reads.)

Most recently, people have asserted on these pages that we have prohibited the announcement of demonstrations on KPFA’s air. This allegation is patently false. If you tuned into our last management report to the listeners, you would have heard us announce and encourage our listeners to attend the demonstration by Code Pink at the Military Recruitment office in downtown Berkeley, to oppose a right-wing counterdemonstration. And in the middle of our latest fund drive, not only did we take time out to broadcast the Oct. 27 anti-war demonstration in San Francisco, we each told our listeners multiple times about its time and location on our air.

You stated on air that KPFA could not, for legal reasons, endorse an event because, should someone be injured in any way, KPFA could be sued. That's the point you need to repeat here but didn't. It's equally true that before Ruth called out the nonsense of what was being promoted, KPFA was passing off silent, candle-light vigils as actions. They are not actions. They are (silent) gatherings. While KPFA excessively promoted those non-actions, they ignored very real actions that were taking place. That was taken care the last go round of protests against the illegal war. You should note that and take the credit you deserve for the change.

In truth, KPFA is the strongest and most financially viable station in the Pacifica Network. We have more subscribers than any other Pacifica station, even those broadcasting to areas with twice the population we cover. As managers, we have increased KPFA’s channels for collecting listener feedback about what’s working and what isn’t.

Listener feedback? KPFA ran off some online listeners as a result of their threat to pull or limit online streaming. In addition, KPFA, 'in solidarity,' made a really dumb decision to pull streaming for one day in the so-called Save Internet Radio action. The goal of KPFA has always been to increase the volume of listeners, not run them away. Lewis Hill would never have endorsed a day of silence by choice. Considering the many topics KPFA never gives significant attention to, a day of silence was just stupid. There's no other word for it.

It was nothing but a radio station throwing a tantrum in public. It also sent a message that KPFA had two classes of listeners -- ones who would always be served (airwaves) and ones who could wait at the back of the bus until KPFA was good and damn ready.

You plug the Seattle hearing and do so after the fact. That broadcast should have had tremendous exposure and didn't receive it. That's a failure on the promotion side. Credit for airing it, but the grade is mixed.

The failure, nearly five years after the illegal war began (five years in March 2008), to launch a program whose focus was Iraq -- either weekly or daily, half-hour or full hour -- is a great shame for KPFA (and other Pacifica Radio stations). That's reality. The illegal war is not being covered in chats with authors about their latest book on eating. The illegal war is not being covered as someone spins tunes. Aaron Glantz' project should be folded into a regular program. Until that happens, the project is a bit of embarrassment because Glantz' focus remains the definitive statement by KPFA about the war and the statement is, "It's hard for vets. All of you out there be observers." That's not Glantz' intent. That's not what he's trying to do. But when no program has the illegal war as its focus, his efforts are undermined and it does appear KPFA is offering The Best Years of Our Lives as a means to 'address' the illegal war.

"Of course, we could always do better, but there is a good deal of energy moving the station in a positive direction and it is a collective effort," you write. That should have been the second sentence in your column and the rest of it should have been spent addressing that topic.

You go on to wonder what would happen if these 'bad' people -- whom you never name -- are elected to the listeners' board. What would happen? The same thing that would happen with any Listeners Board, you would work with them. Your title is Interim Program Director. You really have no business holding that title and involving yourself in the election of the LSB.

One of your biggest shocks has been going from a well liked programmer (liked for a reason) to someone whom a number of people are suspicious of. There's a reason for that. As a programmer you were co-hosting a show and people who agreed with you or found the program interesting could listen to it and those who didn't could turn it off. You no longer represent three hours of KPFA a week. Your position means many more people are studying you and because, in public, you are frequently so hard to read (a given when someone feels they are under attack) there are more questions and your nuances (such as your reactions to phoned in comments on the listeners' report) are studied, pondered and commented on. That's reality.

You're a strong woman and you can handle it if you recognize and acknowledge the shift.

Writing a column that will be read as "Mean people are saying mean stuff about me" is really ridiculous and undermines the position you hold. You had a full column that you could have utilized to talk about the station and what you're doing and have done. Instead it was a cry to stop talking! Now!

People are going to talk and you supplied them with what to talk about (and they are talking). That's no one's fault but your own. Had you written about the station and where it's headed, you would have sounded like a confident program director who was trying to steer a course and that would be the topic of discussions. All your column did was add fuel to the fire and make it that much more likely that the very real accomplishments you can take credit for will instead be ignored.

The saddest e-mail to this site was from a woman who was a huge fan of the work you did on Against the Grain. She didn't attack you. She wondered what happened to that you? What's happened is you're now in a high visibility position where your every move is scrutinized and you responded, in your column, as if you were still a programmer fighting for air time. It was beneath your position and beneath you. When you work from the position that everyone's against you, you're undermining yourself and forgetting that what you are judged upon, in the end, is whether or not KPFA was worth listening to that day?

Only when mentioning the Larry Bensky coverage of the Seattle FCC public hearing and Aaron Glantz' project did you seem to remember what your role was now.

We wouldn't suggest that you ever write a column like that again; however, if you do, at least present in a question-and-answer format. Had the same comments been made in response to questions, that would have helped to mitigate the defensive posture. Had the same comments been made in actual Q&A, you would have been seen as addressing topics in an interview. Instead, you're raising issues that you say are non-issues but, due to the fact that you are writing about them and that you are the program director, they suddenly seem much more important than they are. That wasn't your intent.

For us, our issues with KPFA can be boiled down to two chief concerns.

1) Iraq.

A program needs to focus on the illegal war. An existing one or a new one, it doesn't matter. But it needs to be the focus. You shouldn't tell yourself that it can be covered by other programs because Against the Grain went months without addressing the illegal war. It could offer roundtables, reports or just a summary of headlines. But a program needs to focus on the illegal war.

2) Online listeners.

KPFA got no links. Did anyone notice that? The whole article, it has no links. Why is that?

Because of the decision to create two classes of listeners and because of the threat to do away with online listeners -- which KFCF in Fresno already has done. That didn't just anger some online listeners, it angered listeners over the airwaves. Kat, a lifelong KPFA listener, now listen to KPFK online instead of turning on her radio and listening to KPFA. C.I. can't link to KPFA without The Common Ills community being in an uproar. A vague note in the KPFA newsletter is not addressing the issue. KPFA put the threat/warning online. Kept it there for days. Only after it became an issue did they alter it. There has been no apology or retraction of the threat.

Acting like it didn't take place doesn't erase it.

Nor did providing a day of dead air to online listeners help in any way. Should KPFA ever go down, we like to think it would go down swinging. There is enough silence in the world and KPFA should never contribute to that by eliminating its own voice. No other Pacifica station took part in that nonsense. That the original home of Pacifica Radio did so is really sad.

Those are issues that go to the job description of a program director. What someone did or didn't say in an election campaign for the LSB really doesn't require a comment from a program director.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Poll1 { display:none; }