Board member censured for failing to protect KPFA listeners’ email privacy

“None of your business.” That was board member Tracy Rosenberg‘s response at the local station board meeting this weekend when pressed on how she had obtained the email addresses of more than 5,000 KPFA subscribers and donors.

The issue arose in early March, when KPFA subscribers received phony email messages promoting the controversial and unpopular Morning Mix program. The emails purported to come from KPFA but in fact came from Media Alliance, which Rosenberg heads. The phony Morning Mix emails linked directly to Media Alliance’s database, which then collected information about the recipients’ viewing habits and actions.

KPFA’s board chair Margy Wilkinson asked a group of board members from both sides of the political divide to investigate. They presented their report at the April 16 board meeting, expressing great concern about how critical proprietary information had been obtained by an unaffiliated organization, in violation of listener trust. Their investigation confirmed that the misappropriated email addresses came from the official voter list used in KPFA’s 2010 election, which had been released only to Pacifica national election supervisor Renee Asteria and KPFA local election supervisor Oriana Suportas.

Critical KPFA voter information released

One of the members of the investigating committee, Sasha Futran, told KPFA’s board that the release of the voter emails could compromise the fairness of future balloting, and that KPFA had a responsibility to keep its subscribers’ data private, and “not have it just be passed around to various individuals.” Futran said at least 175 members had unsubscribed because of the fake emails. “Why should KPFA have to suffer 175 people opting out of receiving our official, real, sanctioned email because they got an illegal email that appeared to be from us?” | 3 MINUTE AUDIO CLIP OF FUTRAN

Rosenberg responded that it was her prerogative to use KPFA voters’ emails as she saw fit. She claimed to have received the emails from Pacifica’s lawyer, Ricardo DeAnda, in order to send out a negotiated apology from Pacifica after a judge ruled against the network in its attempt to nullify staff votes to swing last year’s board election its way. (Incidentally, the apology was never sent).

Upon hearing Rosenberg’s claim, board member Dan Siegel immediately emailed DeAnda, who quickly replied that he never gave Rosenberg any lists.  “As a board member, she baldly lied to us, we all heard her,” said Dan Siegel after reading DeAnda’s message aloud to board members. | 1 MINUTE AUDIO CLIP OF SIEGEL

KPFA’s local board passed a resolution censuring Rosenberg and asking Media Alliance to destroy all copies of the KPFA subscriber email list in its possession. A second resolution censuring Pacifica executive director Arlene Engelhardt for her role in the matter was tabled to give Engelhardt time to respond.

“Everybody knows this was a wrong thing to do,” said board member Matthew Hallinan “Anybody who has organizational lists knows that those are treasures, you don’t let those lists go to anybody else because you lose the trust of your membership. If KPFA members felt their lists were going to different people, particularly people with particular political agendas….no one would want to be on it and it would hurt the station tremendously.” | 2 MINUTE AUDIO CLIP OF HALLINAN

Rosenberg sits on both the KPFA and Pacifica boards, and is the chief proponent behind the cancellation of the Morning Show and the targeting of dissident staff for layoff.

You can find the minutes and the entire audio of the board meeting here.

Pacifica management censors own journalists, spends $30K on anti-union lawyers

Another gag rule has been handed down by KPFA’s parent network Pacifica, as KPFA host Mitch Jeserich tried to bring listeners a discussion of what is happening at Free Speech Radio. The last time the network prohibited journalists from covering news about Pacifica itself was in 1999, right before it shut down KPFA.

This comes on top of news that Pacifica has spent $30,000 of KPFA’s funds on anti-union consultants. In November, after illegally laying off Morning Show staff, Pacifica hired the “management-side” legal firm of Folger Levin at $400 an hour. KPFA’s local board treasurer has confirmed that the station’s account has been charged over $30,000 for those expenses for November 2010-January 2011, with thousands of dollars in additional charges expected shortly. | KPFA News report

Last week, Jeserich invited Pacifica executive director Arlene Engelhardt and KPFA interim program director Carrie Core to appear on Letters and Politics to discuss an email they had sent to thousands of KPFA listeners, but they declined. When Jeserich mentioned that he had also invited a KPFA union steward to appear, he was told by Engelhardt and Core that “we have decided not to permit further discussion of KPFA internal disputes (including personnel or financial matters) on your program at this time.” Read the email exchange

“The disputes at KPFA are NOT just ‘internal,'” wrote outraged KPFA subscriber Blair Moser. “They are widely understood to be a coup by outside ‘management’ against local control… This ham-fisted putsch may result in the utter destruction of the Bay Area’s essential source of independent news.”

The week before, Core disciplined News co-director Mark Mericle for airing a story reporting that KPFA was laying off News anchor John Hamilton, saying that Mericle should not have used the word “layoff.” Core also disciplined Hamilton and Jeserich for mention of the layoff, even as listeners called in record donations in support of the News. | KPFA News report

“Arlene Englehart is an embarrassment to the progressive community and is pursuing a course that is destructive to a station I care deeply about,” wrote one listener. “It isn’t Free Speech Radio if there is a gag rule at KPFA — your actions are anti-union, violate principles of free speech and accountability and are solely to protect you from having your actions see the light of day.”

IMPORTANT: PLEASE ADD YOUR VOICE NOW AGAINST CENSORSHIP by writing the Pacifica National Board. Tell them you oppose gag rules that limit open discussion of the network’s problems, and that their actions jeopardize KPFA’s important role as an independent source of news and information. You can write via SaveKPFA’s page (we will keep your email address private).

Meanwhile, KPFA board members Margy Wilkinson and Pamela Drake finally got a long-awaited meeting with Engelhardt yesterday. Engelhardt said it was “appropriate” to prevent staff from airing any news about KPFA’s problems. She admitted spending $30,000 on lawyers to fight the KPFA staff, and said the Morning Show could not come back since she has reduced the slot to one hour (8-9AM), and feels that listeners would be “upset” if anything were to be changed now. | Read the report

Remembering Pacifica’s history of censorship

Upon hearing about the new gag rule, listener Barbara Fitzpatrick wrote to Engelhardt, “You have to be kidding, have you no sense of history? Or for that matter any notion of decency, or appreciation of all those who struggled ten years ago? This is Pacifica, not Clear Channel. The hypocrisy of management at this time is disgusting.  Just leave, you are not going to win.”

Pacifica last tried to silence reporting of developments in the network back in 1999, when it fired radio hosts Larry Bensky and Robbie Osman, among others, for speaking out on-air about Pacifica matters. The network also fired its national news director Dan Coughlin and tried to censor Amy Goodman‘s Democracy Now! for their reports on Pacifica. That provoked a nationwide movement to return the network to its mission, including an historic strike of Pacifica’s freelancers that resulted in the creation of Free Speech Radio News.

Pacifica’s national board voted unanimously to “end censorship of any programming throughout the network” when it settled the strike of its freelance contributors in 2002.  Pacifica even has a page about this proud history on its website.

Management’s current undermining of editorial independence runs counter to KPFA’s own long-standing news policy, which states the News will report “on matters regarding KPFA, Pacifica, its personnel or Board of Directors with the same vigor and candor as it would report on other institutions or individuals.”

Attacks on KPFA journalists also have come from a group of board members affiliated with Tracy Rosenberg. KPFA’s own local station board passed a resolution in March 2010 defending KPFA journalists’ rights to cover internal issues with “the same editorial autonomy they enjoy when reporting on external issues.” The vote was 14-7, and the 7 voting against were aligned with Rosenberg’s board faction — the group at Pacifica national that hired and now protects Arlene Engelhardt.

Impartial oversight of vote still in question

After an outpouring of listener pressure, management finally certified the recall election to proceed, but has been vague about how it will conduct the vote, or if it will follow Pacifica’s own rules and mail the ballots before year’s end. Hundreds of KPFA listeners signed the recall petition, which lays out the charges of election fraud, email theft, and the destruction of programming by Rosenberg. Hundreds more have signed a second petition demanding that a neutral third party oversee the vote.

Many who signed expressed their frustration with Pacifica’s actions against KPFA, led by treasurer Rosenberg and executive director Arlene Engelhardt. For instance, listener Fred Hosea writes: “The dysfunction, drama, loss of listener support, and mismanagement of the past year amount to an intolerable failure, with Tracy Rosenberg and Arlene Engelhardt at the corrupting center. Rosenberg must go with all due haste, with Engelhardt to follow.” | SEE PETITION OR PETITION SIGNATURES

Help SaveKPFA spread the word
To raise funds to cover possible legal costs and the expense of contacting all of KPFA’s 20,000 listeners, SaveKPFA has set up an online account for those who would like to support our work. (Of course, we encourage you to support KPFA as well.) If you’d like to be added to SaveKPFA’s endorsers’ list, please email us with your name and how you’d like to identified.

Pacifica admits it failed to deposit pension money
Pacifica has finally admitted that it was not depositing employees’ pension contributions into their accounts in a timely fashion “for the past few years.” The network has sent a memo to staff claiming it was a “misunderstanding,” and acknowledging that it must repay the missing deposits with interest. Since early October, KPFA’s union has been investigating the apparent diversion of funds, calling it a form of wage theft.