Looking Beneath the Mud by Anthony Fest


It's sad to see a KPFA Local Station Board election debate descend to lies and mudslinging. But that's what happened this year, with the “Save KPFA” group (known in previous elections as the “Concerned Listeners”) making ridiculous accusations against the competing Independents for Community Radio (ICR) candidates. Save-KPFA also has somehow convinced reporters Mitch Jeserich and Aaron Glantz into repeating their party line, and even into slinging some mud as well.

In a recent posting, Aaron Glantz endorsed the “Save-KPFA” slate, then added,

On the other side, are those who believe that 'professionalism' is a dirty word. In a time when one expects to hear calls for austerity from the right, not the left, this group thinks that the unionized paid staff of the station should be dispensed with and replaced by a station of volunteers.”

If Glantz was following the rudimentary principles of journalism, he'd have supported these claims with quotes from one or more ICR candidates (even in an opinion piece, a writer should support his statements with evidence). Yet Glantz doesn't quote any of the ICR candidates. How can he claim to know what they think? Or did he level his charges without bothering to actually speak with any of them??

Here's the truth: the ICR candidates do NOT believe that the paid KPFA staff should be “dispensed with.” KPFA has always been a predominantly-volunteer station (the unpaid staff are the majority of the staff, and they host the majority of the program hours), but a paid staff is essential too. Without the support of paid engineering and administrative workers, KPFA could not function. And full-time paid producers, reporters, and hosts bring a dimension to news and public-affairs coverage that can't be replicated entirely by unpaid workers, however dedicated.

But there's a recession on, the worst one in generations. With the state's unemployment rate topping 12%, KPFA supporters can't afford to contribute as much as they used to. The station has no choice but to reduce its budget, and that means layoffs. There is no where else to cut, and no rainy-day fund left to tap (when the Concerned Listeners held the majority on the KPFA board the previous three years, they signed off on a series of unbalanced annual budgets that burned through all of KPFA's savings). Complaining about “austerity” won't change this reality. There will have to be layoffs at KPFA, but they should be done on the basis of seniority, following the union contract. To claim these unavoidable reductions mean “dispensing with the union staff” is beyond reckless, it's a gross lie. And in fact, KPFA's finances are so tenuous that the reductions will have to come before the newly-elected board members take office in December.

Another unsupported Aaron Glantz assertion: “these folks strongly support conspiracy programming.” Again, how can Glantz claim to know this? KPFA voters who want to read the candidates' statements for themselves can find them at pacificaelections2010.org. On the issue of KPFA programming, the three years of Concerned-Listener majorities on the LSB were three years of standing pat. Not one new community-based show was introduced. By contrast, the earlier years of the decade saw much more programming innovation, with shows like the Womens' Magazine, Pushing Limits, Education Today, Full Circle, Voices of the Middle East and others added to KPFA's airwaves. This year's LSB, with an slim ICR majority, voted to restart the Program Council, a longstanding KPFA institution that gave listeners and staff a voice in programming decisions. Most of the Concerned-Listener members of the LSB had walked out of the meeting by the time the LSB voted to restart the Program Council; the few who stayed voted no.

Then there is Mitch Jeserich's endorsement of Save-KPFA. Rather than spin falsehoods about the competing candidates, he seems to be irked at the very existence of an elected board:

Have you ever been to a baseball game and witnessed the beer drinking belligerent fan in the bleachers heckling the ball players for the entire game? Imagine if that belligerent fan, with little first hand experience in the game, were suddenly made the boss of those very same ball players. This is what it feels like for many of us who work at KPFA.”

Many listeners – and the board members elected by the listeners – might well feel peeved at this comparison. More important, though, is that six of the 25 KPFA board members are elected by the KPFA staff; to use the baseball metaphor, six of the seats on the board are reserved for the ball players. And a good way to gauge the opinions of those who work at KPFA is to see who they've elected to the board: four of the six staff members on the LSB usually vote with ICR; only two are aligned with the Concerned Listeners.

So, who are the ICR candidates? There are ten altogether; here are a few of them:

Stephen Astourian teaches history and Armenian Studies at UC Berkeley.

Janet Kobren is a retired teacher and a long-time Mideast peace activist; she was one of the volunteers aboard the Free-Gaza Flotilla earlier this year.

Tracy Rosenberg is the Executive Director of Media Alliance, the Oakland-based organization that helps media workers and advocates for a more democratic media.

Gina Szeto is a UC Berkeley law student and director of the Workers' Rights Clinic.

Among the many activists and media leaders who’ve endorsed ICR are Cindy Sheehan, Peter Phillips, David Barsamian, and Barbara Lubin.

Read about all the ICR candidates, and see the full endorsement list, at www.voteindyradio.org

There are nine seats to fill on the board in this election, and the runner-up will fill any future vacant seat. So please vote for all ten ICR candidates. And rest assured there's not a mudslinger or a baseball heckler among them.