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.