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Letter to Pat Scott & others re union & programming problems, National Board meetings minutes not

September 24, 1996 

Pat Scott 
Valerie van Isler 
Samori Marksman 
Mario Murillo 
Frank Millspaugh


Due to the limits on my own time, it seems expedient to address this response to all of you at once. So I will pretend that we are a group having a discussion about the current management/union discord and other related matters. I will also address you each by your given name and hope you will not take offense. You can call me Frank.

First, I would like to thank each of you for responding to my concerns (either by letter or during the recent BAI Report to the Listener). I am the individual who called in to the Report and requested permission to include portions of the broadcast in a local public access tv show which I was preparing about some of these issues. The tape has been completed and will be aired a number of times on Manhattan Neighborhood Network. To the casual viewer it may seem that I am taking the union's side in this cable program. That really is not the case. I have no reason to believe anyone "taking the union position" is any more saintly, or more right than anyone in management at BAI. And I still have faith that we are all working toward the same goal: to give real meaning to freedom of speech and to nurture the creation of great radio. However, I am troubled by actions taken by the Pacifica Board and the apparent drift of some (most?) of the stations. Also, in the video, The Trouble at WBAI, I did question statements you have made and positions you have put forth. I think it might be useful to go over some of those points and others that are related.

When I asked, during my call, why it was that you wanted 90% of your staff out of the union... and was "it a matter of tenure... of getting people off the air?", Valerie and Samori denied flatly that they were trying to remove anyone. Yet earlier, Samori had talked about making changes in the overnight programming to bring symmetry ("...as one must do in radioland"), and in letters from Pat and Frank I was told that the "legitimate interests" of the "volunteers" do not include "lifetime tenure." If your response to my question had been that some of the overnight programs are lousy and that some people were going to have to shape up or ship out, I would probably say, "That sounds reasonable but, please, be damn sure you make the right choices." Or if you would come right out and explain that the only way that you can get rid of a producer, under the present arrangement, is to catch him/her on-the-air demeaning W. B. Dubois, or Gary Null, or lesbianism or something, then I might be more sympathetic to your plight. The plain fact of the matter is, because of this seemigly contradictory gag rule, listeners like myself don't know what the freeek is goin' on. And you guys look like sheeet because of it. As a later caller put it, "You are asking us to trust management." Isn't that what the politicians always say? "I can't tell you everything that's going on, but TRUST ME."

In the meantime, union folks report that when the unpaid staff at KPFA were cut out of the bargaining unit 70 - 75% of the workers were "shown the door." Samori says "Are we not men and women?" who would fight any purge or radical shift in programming? He urges us not to be swayed by rumor, but to examine the "evidence." I have examined the evidence of KPFA's September schedule (http://www.kpfa.org/folio.html) and it worries me. I don't know what it was like before the union folks were booted out, but it don't look so hot to me. If it was BAI's schedule I think you would be squeezing fewer bucks out of me next year.

When another caller pointed out that KPFT's all-music format does not bode well for Pacifica's programming decisions ( No mention was made of the fact that WPFW is also reportedly heading down the same lane!) you seemed not to pick up on what her concern was. And just what are we to make of flagship KPFA's lunge into musicradio (albeit appropriately counter-culture or ethnic musicradio)? I didn't do a methodical minute-by-minute count, but it would appear a fairly conservative estimate that 60 to 70% of their air is given over to music and spoken word/drama. Don't get me wrong, I am an artist and I think these things are very important... but I turn to NPR when I want that kind of a hit. When I need a Fool tilting at windmills (in order to hear that I am not alone) I tune in to WBAI.

KPFA does in fact, as union folks and activists claim, have very little live community-issue type progrmming, and almost no call-in shows.

I am a late convert to call-in programs. Over the years, however, WBAI has demonsrtrated that its audience often asks better questions than media professionals, raises overlooked issues, and grounds the station in reality. I would not argue that BAI's air could not be improved by more prepared or focused programming but, Samori's assurances aside, KPFA's schedule is not evidence of progress. And, according to a union spokesman, KPFA's latest fundraising effort was a "disaster." Perhaps this is one of the "lies" that Samori alluded to, or an example of the kind of "misinformation and disinformation" that Valerie said union people were spreading. Samori claimed that some people are attaching themselves to these issues and have hidden agendas, including a desire to "destroy the station." I hope to hell you are overstating that one. In any event, I personally object to such claims made if you are not willing to say specifically who is guilty or what the blasted lies are and what the almighty truth is that refutes the lies and JUST WHAT THE HELL ARE WE TALKING ABOUT HERE, AND WHY NOT END OR MODIFY THE GAG RULE TO CLEAR THE AIR? Pat wrote that I "will be shocked to know that one of our most vocal critics recently stated publicly 'propaganda is necessary in a democracy ....because you have to control (people's) minds.'" Who are we talking about? Newt Gingrich? A "volunteer" union goon? What was the context? What? What are we talking about? With all due respect, folks, I really hate these kind of amorphous and puny smears.

As was clearly evident from the four phone calls that addressed the union/management discord, listeners believe the issues should be discussed openly and, preferably, on the air. It is also clear to me that if you ever put the Pacifica gag rule up to be voted on by subscribers, it would result in a landslide on behalf of full and open disclosure. You are maintaining, given Pacifica's perceived goals, a completely untenable position. I think you are selling your listeners short, assuming that the union would "win" in an open debate.

My own feeling about the gag rule is that, yes, endless debate on these issues could be counter-productive as well as boring (the last would probably work in your favor), and that it might be a real challenge for management to make points in what appears, to many, an attempt to bust the union. But hanging tough and sitting on the issues is shortsighted, to say the least. It is also insulting to us out here. My suggestion is that it be approached pragmatically, and that on one day each month broadcasters be allowed to respond to any and all listener questions and that management and staff debate the issues openly on-air. If you are truly against "controlling people's minds," why not lead the way to freedom? I think the listeners can handle it. Maybe you guys could too.

And by the way, why haven't the minutes of the National Board meetings been released for the last two years? Is this not in defiance of CPB regulations? How come you are doing this and how come you are getting away with it? Samori and Mario, yours are voices I ordinarilly feel I can trust. You know very well that if some right-leaning publicly-funded organization tried to get away with this you would skewer them at evey opportunity. And I would be cheering you on. How come you let Pacifica get away with this? What are they doing in these meetings that they don't think we need to know?

A few final observations: I am biased towards locally produced programs. I can see how folks in the boonies could benefit from receiving programs like Democracy Now and Counterspin, which they might not have resources to produce themselves. But on a personal level, I have a kind of negative reaction to We The People being shipped into my livingroom five days a week. In addition to it covering, often, the same ground as other BAI and Pacifica programs, I think I must feel a little like the American colonists must have felt towards Britain, or how the Native Americans must have felt towards the colonists. I have this unease that something foreign is beginning to make claims on my territory without having asked me about it, and that this is just the beginning. I guess I like to do most of my shopping closer to home. Again, I understand that you folks would reassure me that local programming will not be replaced but, as mentioned above, after studying KPFA's schedules I am more than a teensy bit nervous.

While I do appreciate your responses, and do not expect personal replies to my letters or calls, and fully recognize the value of computer-assisted communications, I feel I should let Pat and Frank know that they have been copying and pasting from the same documents in their letters to me. To hear from both of you that "It is true that Pacifica management and the National Board of Directors support the removal of unpaid volunteers from the negotiating unit. This may be a debatatble position, but it does not constitute "union busting." The inclusion of volunteers in a union bargaining unit is an anomaly practically unknown outside of Pacifica." does not make your conclusion more compelling. I have thought for the past 30 years that Pacifica was, in effect, proud of being an anomoly, and was urging other institutions to be like it. Maybe I got it wrong.

Frank Fitzgerald 

PS: I may, time and resources permitting, post copies of this to Board members and other interested parties.

PPS: The Trouble at WBAI will air on MNN: 
9/25, 9:30 PM, ch. 34 
9/27, 11:30 PM, ch. 34 
9/29, 4:30 PM, ch. 34

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