Transcript of KPFA News 4/15/99

Report on the April 15 Demonstration in front of the Pacifica Foundation

Anchor: Some 700 protestors gathered outside the headquarters of the Pacifica Foundation this afternoon to protest the firings of KPFA General Manager Nicole Sawaya and veteran Pacifica journalist and Sunday Salon host Larry Bensky.

The demonstration was considerably larger and more spirited than one held soon after Sawaya's ouster two weeks ago, suggesting that the movement critical of Pacifica's management of the station is growing. Pacifica Foundation representative refused to comment to KPFA reporters until KPFA staff agrees to take part in facilitated discussion of the issues raised by the controversy. KPFA's Matt Martin reports.

Dennis Bernstein: With your help and with your support, we can struggle together to save our marvelous, scrappy, wonderful sometimes even crappy, but _Free_Speech_Radio. Keep Free Speech Radio.

Maudelle Shirek: Instead of celebrating 50 years of community radio, we are here to stop the takeover of our station. (applause) I say KPFA belongs to the people of the Bay area and not to the out-of-touch board of the Pacifika Foundation.

Matt Martin: At most public events there would be tension between righteous indignation and light hearted revelry, but as these statements from Flashpoints host Dennis Bernstein and Berkeley City Councilmember Maudelle Shirek make clear, today's demonstration in front of the Pacifica Foundation headquarters and it's next door neighbor KPFA was driven by both.

The crowd jammed the sidewalk and blocked the four-lane street next to it. They came to demand the reinstatement of fired General Manager Nicole Sawaya and Sunday Salon host Larry Bensky. Participants made connections between the protest and the tradition of independent radio, which began with KPFA's first broadcast 50 years ago.

Pacifica historian Matthew Lasar said the present management has diverged from the network's history of openness and free expression. He called for a change of direction

Matthew Lasar: We need people who want to lead the Pacifica Network, not just run it. We need people who play hard but play fair, who know better than to seek their goals through fiat, firing and fait accomplis. We need leaders with a coherent vision for our network. We need people who have a philosophy for Pacifica and are capable of communicating that philosophy to others. If our national board feels so strongly that the network should be centralized and nationalized, then let's talk about it openly and completely, and I'm not just talking about another national board meeting where at the very end of the meeting weekend, you get to pour your hearts out in three minute speeches and they bob their heads up and down and then they go somewhere else and say what they really think in private.

Matt Martin: Several speakers focussed on Pacifica's lack of communication in the wake of the firings. Susan Stone, head of the stations Drama and Literature department and spokesperson for KPFA staff said programmers and listeners alike need to know what the Pacifica Foundation has in mind.

Susan Stone : And especially the plan, what is Pacifica's plan? If you remove a general manager, if you remove and cut the very heart out of a 50th anniversary campaign of support, what is it you are planning to do? What is happening the day after our 50th anniversary? We need to know what's next?

Matt Martin: The Pacifica foundation's board of directors held a closed emergency meeting on Wednesday to discuss the aftermath of the Sawaya and Bensky firings. But no details of the meeting have been disclosed. Pacifica executive Lynn Chadwick has granted interviews to National Public Radio's KQED and other Bay area media outlets to discuss Pacifica's 50th anniversary and the crisis at the station, but Elan Fabbri, Pacifica's national communications director, said Pacifica would not comment to KPFA reporters on the controversy until station staff agrees to facilitated discussions with Pacifica. Fabbri said the union representing station staff had identified a facilitator who would be acceptable to the Foundation.

KPFA staff members say mediation has always been one of their demands and that there has been no official invitation to the table from Pacifica, only a verbal offer communicated through a single staff member. Susan Stone said the staff wants to talk but will not do so before they are ready.

Susan Stone: We are not impetuous, we are not barn burning; we are thorough and we are also researching all aspects of this situation so that we can bring to the table a focussed, sound and united voice.

Matt Martin: Among the speakers at the demonstration were several left-wing luminaries including Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Nation magazine European correspondent Daniel Singer. A statement of support from the unionized staff at WBAI, Pacifica's affiliate in New York was also read. Pacifica's critics say they will increase the pressure on Pacifica's board during a visit this weekend by its chair, Mary Frances Berry. For KPFA news this is Matt Martin.

Anchor: Pacifica's governing board did hold an emergency meeting by telephone yesterday to discuss the crisis at KPFA. Details of that meeting are not public, but after 90minutes the board adjourned without taking any actions to resolve the situation. The board, the board chair Dr. Mary Frances Berry and Executive Director Lynn Chadwick have receive thousands of emails, faxes, letters and telephone calls supporting the KPFA demands for the reinstatement of station manager Sawaya, and for an outside mediation of her firing and the underlying issues behind it.