(en)Salon article on Pacifica online

Lyn Gerry (redlyn@loop.com)
Sun, 29 Jun 1997 02:35:49 +0000


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------- Forwarded Message Follows ------- Date: Sat, 28 Jun 1997 22:28:16 -0700 From: Elizabeth Harvey <misseli@earthlink.net> Reply-to: misseli@earthlink.net Organization: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Sewing Circle To: ay589@lafn.org, redlyn@loop.com Subject: [Fwd: Pacifica Article online!]

Elizabeth Harvey wrote: >
> >From Salon Magazine (a web mag ...)!
>>
> > ----------------------------
> >
> >
> >
> > Is the troubled progressive radio network drifting
> > to the right -- or just cleaning up a worn-out '60s
> > message?
> >
> > BY EYAL PRESS Is the Pacifica radio network
>> purging its ranks of leftists? It may seem odd to
> > ask such a thing of a network that regularly
> > features political commentary by people like Noam
> > Chomsky, that airs a national talk-show called "We
> > the People" hosted by Jerry Brown, and that defines
> > its very mission as "challenging the status quo."
> > But a group of longtime Pacifica supporters, many
> > of them former employees, is convinced that an
> > effort is underway to squelch the spirit of
> > radicalism at America's oldest alternative radio
> > network. The person to blame, they say, is not Newt
> > Gingrich, who has repeatedly tried to abolish
> > Pacifica's federal funding on the grounds that the
> > network is too liberal, but Patricia Scott, the new
> > executive director of the Pacifica Foundation, whom
> > critics feel is out to blunt the network's cutting
> > edge.
> >
> > On one level, the turmoil at Pacifica simply
> > reflects an internal struggle over decision-making
> > and control, with volunteer programmers at the
> > network's five member stations increasingly
> > incensed with Scott's seemingly draconian
> > management style. But viewed through a broader
> > lens, the controversy is rooted in a deeper
> > struggle to define the mission and purpose of an
> > avowedly progressive radio network in an age of
> > right-wing talk shows and conservative politics, a
> > challenge that confronts not just Pacifica but the
> > left as a whole.
> >
> > "Pat Scott wants to turn Pacifica into NPR lite,"
> > says Maria Gallardin, a former development director
> > at KPFA Berkeley, one of Pacifica's five member
> > stations, and a co-founder of Take Back KPFA, a
> > group that formed in 1993 after Scott began firing
> > many of the community and volunteer programmers who
> > have formed the backbone of the network for years.
> > Browsers who visit the Free Pacifica! Web site will
> > find a slew of articles and documents accusing the
> > new Scott regime of implementing a top-down
> > counter-revolution: eviscerating local programming,
> > shuttering board meetings from public scrutiny, and
> > moderating the network's politics. It's all part of
> > an effort, Gallardin believes, to refashion
> > Pacifica in the pallid version of NPR, catering to
> > a broader, "more yuppie" audience that prefers
> > light programming and tepid neo-liberalism of the
> > Bill Clinton variety to the unvarnished radicalism
> > of the network's past.
> >
> > "It's true that some people have lost their
> > programs," concedes Dick Bunce, Pacifica's Deputy
> > Executive Director. But he insists the overhaul was
> > necessary to keep the network afloat in changing
> > times. Squeezed by commercial talk radio on one
> > side and declining federal funding on the other,
> > Pacifica, Bunce says, was steadily losing market
> > share. "We're based in five major markets, and
> > could be listened to by one in five households. Yet
> > we found that our programming had not been through
> > much change or innovation... We were using
> > museum-quality technology. Our audiences were
> > stagnant... Meanwhile, competition had increased
> > dramatically." The new Pacifica, he says, will
> > retain its cutting edge but expand its audience --
> > as has indeed been done in recent years under Scott
> > -- by featuring more national programs that can
> > compete head-to-head against commercial radio and
> > NPR. As an example, he points to Amy Goodman's
> > "Democracy Now," an iconoclastic news show that
> > Goodman calls "the exception to the rulers," and
> > that has held its own against "All Things
> > Considered" in Albuquerque and elsewhere. Of
> > course, more national programming -- or strip
> > programming as it is called -- inevitably means
> > less of the eclectic, grassroots, community-based
> > shows that critics contend are what make Pacifica
> > unique.
> >
> > Bunce has a point: upgrading quality was necessary
> > and long overdue at Pacifica. During the 1960s, the
> > network could ride the wave of the Civil Rights and
> > antiwar movements, airing lively commentary by the
> > likes of I.F. Stone, Bertrand Russell, Malcolm X
> > and Daniel Ellsberg. But by the 1980s, as these
> > movements faded, liberalism receded, and a
> > reinvigorated conservatism took hold, the old
> > formula ran out of steam. Too many programs, hosted
> > by volunteers and produced on shoe-string budgets,
> > were narrowly focused, technically inept and
> > politically stagnant, evoking the atmosphere of "a
> > private club for a few people to talk to their
> > friends," in Scott's words. Pacifica, like the Left
> > more generally, featured a veritable smorgasbord of
> > niche programs on identity politics, each catering
> > to a particular ethnic group, with less and less
> > broad-ranging commentary and analysis to captivate
> > a wider audience.
> >
> > Norman Solomon, a syndicated columnist and media
> > analyst with Fairness & Accuracy in News Reporting
> > (FAIR), agrees that some of the old programming had
> > to go, but also echoes those who criticize the new
> > regime's brusque "unaccountable" management style,
> > and its "creeping Clintonism" in the political
> > realm. The network that honors May Day and
> > International Women's Day, for example, recently
> > hired the American Consulting Group, a notorious
> > union-busting law firm, to advise it on
> > worker-management issues, and illegally attempted
> > to eliminate volunteer workers from having a voice
> > in union affairs at WBAI, the network's New York
> > branch. Pacifica has also implemented an absurd gag
> > rule on its own employees, so that, during
> > fund-raising drives, listeners may hear death-row
> > inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal assail the criminal justice
> > system, but not critical assessments of how
> > Pacifica itself treats its own workers (as a
> > fitting pay-back, some workers recently appeared on
> > NPR's "On The Air" to explain their grievances).
> >
> > In the May 5 issue of The Nation, Left gadfly
> > Alexander Cockburn lashed out at Pacifica on these
> > and other counts, asserting that the basic trend at
> > the network over the past few years "has been the
> > inexorable extermination of dissent." Both Cockburn
> > and Solomon perceive an effort at Pacifica to
> > moderate material that cuts too sharply against the
> > grain -- a trend seen elsewhere on the left these
> > days, which fears marginalization as the political
> > spectrum shifts further and further to the right.
> > Scott responded in The Nation's June 9 issue,
> > noting that 85 percent of Pacifica programming
> > remains local, while steps to refurbish the network
> > have resulted in a 51 percent jump in listenership.
> > Alongside Scott's reply, however, appeared an
> > embarassing letter from R. Paul Martin, chief
> > steward of the union at WBAI, who echoed Cockburn's
> > charges and added that Pacifica "is now spending
> > listener-sponsor's money... fighting charges of
> > unfair labor practices."
> >
> > Scott and Bunce claim the critics are conflating
> > their effort to upgrade quality with an alleged
> > attempt to alter political content. Perhaps. Yet,
> > as Gallardin notes, it did take a struggle by Take
> > Back KPFA to prevent management from scrapping a
> > popular news program by veteran reporter Dennis
> > Bernstein, whose reporting was deemed too radical.
> > Others claim that national management, while
> > vaunting the success of Goodman's "Democracy Now,"
> > has quietly been pressing her to soften the pitch
> > and go easier on liberal Democrats. Doing so might
> > make it easier for Pacifica to raise money from
> > liberal foundations and reposition itself on the
> > national political map. But it will only deepen the
> > internal strife that has wracked the network, while
> > further muddling its already confused identity.
> > June 13, 1997
> >
> > Eyal Press is a freelance writer who lives in New
> > York. His work has appeared in The Nation, Lingua
> > Franca and other publications.
> >
> >
> http://www.salonmagazine.com/june97/media/media970613.html

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