Some ideas about what Pacifica
needs to work on, 2-20-06
Here are two pieces on what Pacifica's priorities should be. The first is from Dave Adelson, chair of Pacifica's board. It is actually a response to someone on the alliance e-list. The second, longer, piece is courtesy of KPFK LSB member Terry Goodman.
From: David Adelson
i agree with brian...the signal has been very very low...most of what excites discussion on this list tends to be about conflicts and personalities.
for example...the pnb is about to consider (on monday) a policy on contracts oversight by the governance structure, and within the next month or two, a comprehensive policy on programming. we have just voted to fund a national spanish language newscast, and are grappling with the funding mechanism and the structure. we still need to find a way to basically double funding for fsrn, and that's been hanging forever. the pnb passed a motion to authorize a national day of fundraising to fund bringing Radio For Peace International back on the air, but that effort has largely stalled...should pacifica be investing in shortwave at a time when there are so many competing possibilities for developing distribution worldwide? seems to me these would be things that should be discussed by people interested in pacifica.
i think some of the key topics that need to be thought about are, in no particular order:
there are a whole bunch of other things, but we tend not to talk about any of it...we tend to talk about who's screwing whom...there's enough of that going on to provide a steady stream of subjects, but to me, that should be the subsidiary discussion and the main discussion should be where the foundation is going, how, and why...
A BIASED SUMMARY OF PACIFICA ISSUES
Although considerable effort has been expended to make the statements in this paper fair, the author has chosen the above title in recognition that absence of bias is an impossible standard in the context of Pacifica's ongoing internal turmoil.
Remarks delivered by new Executive Director Greg Guma before the Pacifica National Board on January 28, 2006 were the inspiration for this paper and so are sprinkled throughout. No endorsement of other content by the ED is implied or should be inferred.
The current Pacifica National Board is largely factionalized and somewhat evenly split on many important issues, so the two Affiliate Representative Directors to be elected at the March PNB meeting in Los Angeles will play an important role in determining the future direction of the network.
01 POLICIES & PROCEDURES
01 POLICIES & PROCEDURES
One might think that an institution in its fifties would have developed policies for just about everything relating to its operations by now, and one might even be right; but the Foundation's governance bodies remain largely ignorant of its policies. Access to the basic information required to inform policy decision-making has been an issue since the very beginning of governance democratization. Illustrative of this ongoing issue, the KPFK Local Station Board passed the following motion unanimously at its October 15, 2005 meeting. The resolution very likely has not been placed before the PNB for its consideration, so as yet has no power or effect.
"1. That a compilation of Pacifica policies and procedures shall be assembled under the guidance of the Foundation's Executive Director.
"2. That a compilation of unit-specific policies and procedures shall be assembled under the guidance of each unit's management, as local addenda to the Foundation compilation.
"3. That printed copies of these compilations shall be made available to interested Delegates, Directors, and staff at no charge or at cost on or before March 1, 2006 with a copy available at each unit for public inspection at that time.
"4. That online copies of these compilations shall be made available to the public via Pacifica web sites on or before January 1, 2007."
Much of Pacifica's creative talent is strongly resistant to excessive rule making and Pacifica's new Executive Director is similarly cautious with respect to the imposition of structures, so governance may be left to find its own way with little management guidance.
02 DIRECTOR INSPECTIONS
The Foundation's prior management was highly resistant to Directors exercising their individual inspection rights, going so far as to block access to facilities, hide files, and prepare redacted versions of documents. The persistence of certain directors and their threat to obtain a writ, combined with the resignation of the Executive Director, eventually secured significant access for inspections, but the issue could periodically re-emerge. The failure of the PNB to clearly and immediately support inspecting directors allowed time for evidence to be concealed if there was any past management misconduct or malfeasance.
The KPFK Local Station Board unanimously and unequivocally supported Director inspections at its June 25, 2005 meeting:
"Resolved, That the KPFK Local Station Board supports the right of every Director at any reasonable time to inspect and copy all of the Foundation's books, records and documents of every kind and to inspect the physical properties of the Foundation, as specified in Article Twelve, Section 3 of the Foundation Bylaws.
"Further Resolved, That Directors shall maintain the confidentiality of any confidential material they have copied and shall, at the conclusion of their term of office or before, destroy any confidential Pacifica information in their possession or surrender this property to the Foundation or to a continuing Director.
"And Resolved, That the KPFK Local Station Board requests its local Directors to perform regular inspections of local area Pacifica facilities as a normal exercise of governance oversight, and to participate in-person or by designated agent in periodic inspections of the Pacifica National Office."
Although highly political themselves, Pacifica's founders would likely be surprised at the extent to which progressive and left politics now dominate Pacifica's programming and its internal debates, to the detriment of the Foundation's educational purposes.
Consolidation in mainstream media has left alternative media the only available outlet for many diverse viewpoints, and turf wars over airtime on Pacifica stations is part of the fallout from this consolidation.
"Many people talk about our mission, but after 57 years and dramatic changes in media, I get the impression that we don't all see it exactly the same way. So, if I can keep my head above water in addressing day to day needs, I hope to develop a process for us to revisit the mission, find our where we agree and where we differ, and reach some consensus on why we believe Pacifica is a vital part of the 21st century media landscape. While I don't believe in false unity, I hope we can agree on the basic intentions that drive our work." -- Greg Guma
Democratization of Pacifica's governance has made the selection of local Delegates and national Directors a political process, with the politics of candidates and their views on current programming practices overshadowing in election debates any real examination of the candidate's qualifications for assuming a governance role in management oversight.
"It's time to wake up and start focusing on what really matters. It's time to renew our purpose - to project responsible advocacy, real news and informed opinion -- about crony capitalism and imperial schemes, social justice and human rights - to celebrate our differences and our areas of unity, to realize the potential of this precious resources as a people's medium, bringing sharp critique and a progressive vision to millions of listeners." -- Greg Guma
Some view Pacifica as racist and sexist, and assert that it has always been controlled by a white male upper-middle-class elite. Others claim that Pacifica is and has always been on the leading edge of the battle against racism, sexism, and classism in media and society.
Some go so far as to claim that it is legal, moral, and necessary to discriminate against whites and males, due to the historic overrepresentation of these groups in society and media. Others more conventionally argue that discrimination against anyone on the basis of race, gender, or sexual orientation is illegal and wrong.
Some within Pacifica appear to hold the position that every issue is fundamentally a racial issue, every question a racial question, and every comment a racial comment.
Racialization of the political process in some station areas has allowed the ability to articulate the concerns of traditionally underrepresented communities to become an important qualification for office, guaranteeing that diversity issues will frequently be a factor in debate, sometimes inappropriately.
A Race and Nationality Initiative has been repeatedly endorsed or approved by the PNB, though it contains some specific ideas that may be unworkable or illegal. Implementation of the initiative has been delayed and lax. One outgrowth of the initiative is the National Spanish Language Newscast project. Though strongly approved by the PNB, it has languished without funding for a while; but should be launched before year's end on a shoestring budget. At some point thereafter, the success of the project will need to be evaluated and a decision made regarding its future funding. If the project is successful, it cannot be expected to continue that success without significant additional investment.
One of the objectives of the Race and Nationality Initiative was to institute anti-racism or anti-oppression training for staff and governance. Pacifica's Personnel Director has already conducted one or more workshops on gender discrimination and at least one station, KPFK, has scheduled anti-racism training for its Local Station Board.
"Meeting the challenge of increased diversity in our audience and organization is also on the agenda. This is not only needed to secure full CPB funding; it is an important component of Pacifica's mission. It is an issue that bears on our election process, future staffing decisions, and programming to reach underserved communities." -- Greg Guma
05 CODE OF CONDUCT
Violations of decorum at meetings have not been uncommon in Pacifica, and two Delegates have been suspended by their Local Station Boards for months at a time, a possible violation of the Foundation bylaws that the PNB has failed to suitably address. KPFT has seen a large number of Delegate resignations, likely fueled in part by disgust at meeting behaviors and lack of governance progress.
"... we have agreed that action by this Board on a code of conduct is a necessary initial step toward addressing many of the problems that lead to conflict - and sometimes litigation. I've also spoken with the shop stewards at KPFA, and they seem to agree that uniform standards, along with reasonable enforcement, can help to prevent or at least respond to inappropriate behavior." -- Greg Guma
06 BYLAWS ISSUES
Pacifica is encumbered by an unwieldy and flawed set of bylaws. Attempts to address these flaws before adoption were drowned out by an extended debate on the single issue of diversity, which nearly half of those involved at the time still feel was inadequately addressed. If the PNB does not make significant progress in improving its bylaws by amendment in 2006, there will be increasing pressure to surrender this task to the general membership through some sort of bylaws convention at which the diversity issue may again dominate discussion and where amendment proposals may be crafted without competent legal counsel.
Among the many bylaws issues is the simple problem that the bylaws presume the existence of exactly five primary Pacifica stations in perpetuity, thus creating the need for a major membership-approved revision in the event that another primary station is purchased and added to the network.
07 ELECTION ISSUES
Prominent among the bylaws issues is the definition of staff-category members. Language in the bylaws on membership categorization is arbitrary and vague, leaving it vulnerable to local manipulation around delegate elections. Attempts by the PNB Elections Committee to provide policy guidance in the maintenance of auditable membership rosters have provoked protests by one unpaid staff organization.
There have been procedural challenges to Director elections at every Pacifica station, with a current challenge at WPFW.
08 OPEN MEETINGS AND GOVERNANCE TRANSPARENCY
Due to the Executive Director search, the push to allow Director inspections, and several pending legal issues, the PNB has had a number of its meetings in closed session. Several Directors feel that the PNB's use of executive sessions has been excessive and beyond the clear limits of the bylaws. There is a constant pressure from the general membership for greater transparency in governance.
Exacerbating this problem of transparency, the bylaws require the timely posting of governance information on Foundation websites, but the websites are under the control of management, which creates a bottleneck. Inadequate management responsiveness has, at times, threatened the legitimacy of governance meetings. There has been slow, spotty, but significant improvement over time.
The problem, however, is not entirely management's. The work required of the PNB, LSB, and various committee secretaries is considerable and the labor is volunteered, so minutes are often unavoidably late.
"Pacifica's overall structure is a bold experiment in democracy, but also poses a difficult challenge in how to make sure that democratic aspirations and rights do not lead to division, inefficiency, and exploitation of the structure. We don't want our openness to become an excuse for demagoguery, or a war of attrition in which the loudest voices and those with the most time can simply wear the organization down. I also want to promote our election process, to make sure that involvement doesn't drop and that as many people as possible are actively involved. Listener democracy doesn't just keep happening. We have to work at it." -- Greg Guma
09 FINANCIAL TRANSPARENCY
Pacifica's current financial reporting tools and procedures, while exceeding regulatory requirements, do not allow members to obtain satisfactory answers to basic and specific questions, such as how much money is spent in support of certain programming categories. There have been instances of friction between the CFO and the PNB Finance Committee in the wake of unclear and changing answers to certain inquiries, as well as claims that the actual fiscal state of various operating units has been obscured by spin in management reports.
"I also want to cultivate a culture of cooperation, financial transparency, and effective management that respects the contributions of staff and volunteers AND the interests of listeners. That means early identification of emerging issues and problems and effective dissemination of information to all those who have a stake in the outcome." -- Greg Guma
10 LOCAL AUTONOMY
Excessive imposition of national control prior to the lawsuits has left local stations suspicious of any attempts to craft a network identity through national programming. Local issues regarding the appropriate balance of music versus public affairs programming have influenced delegate elections and will consequently impact the discussion of national programming initiatives. The issue of entrenched staff versus new voices also polarizes debate around programming issues in some station areas, with attendant influence on elections and local governance factionalization.
"I'll add only that I will be looking closely at how to balance local authority with the need to intervene and proceed nationally. To that end, I'll be looking for ways to improve LSB / Staff / National Office relations." - Greg Guma
11 PROGRAMMING POLICY
The PNB Programming Committee has developed a comprehensive national programming policy document approved by the PNB. PNB approval has sparked network-wide discussion that should result in further amendments to that document. Within the document are ideas about the potential relationship of Pacifica to commercial media, the rights of individual producers, and methods of program evaluation that are unlikely to survive absent significant revision. There is also some sentiment within management that the policy includes a level of operational detail inappropriate to a general policy mandate.
Democracy Now! and the National Spanish Language Newscast Project (see section 04) are offered as models in the Programming Policy document for how national programming might best be developed, but the funding approaches in each of these models is problematical.
"My goal is to continue bringing diverse voices and excellent local production to new audiences, especially programming that deconstructs the false reality being force fed to people. One step will be to support the development of a sampler of programs from various stations that can be distributed through new venues such as satellite radio and the Internet. I'm also encouraged by the progress being made on mission-driven national programming, but will be sensitive to local programming needs and working with station management to make sure local audiences do not feel that Pacifica is forcing the issue. Compelling communities to act is the last thing I want to do." -- Greg Guma
12 COOPERATIVE MANAGEMENT
Many unpaid staff members participate in programming collectives and many paid staff members argue for increased workplace democracy. Among both staff and listeners there is a general bias against corporate structures and authoritarian management styles. Grassroots activists support a "bottom-up" rather than "top-down" method of organizational responsiveness, yet there are always some matters, such as issues of legal and regulatory compliance, that require firm and decisive management direction. Lack of consensus with respect to the ideal model and varying perspectives on the performance of current management insure continuing disagreements around issues of management policy. KPFA has occasionally spent years with key management positions essentially unfilled, which reinforces ideas there that station management may be unnecessary and that some alternative non-corporate structure is both viable and preferable.
"We need to make communication within the network more regular and systematic. Yesterday, I attended my first Administrative council meeting, a time when the managers can talk frankly about what they have been doing and the issues on the table. I would like to see this turn into a more frequent occurrence, so that this can be an operations working group. The idea is to consult, share expertise, and support each other." --Greg Guma
13 FREE SPEECH, HATE SPEECH, AND GAG RULES
Pacifica includes free speech absolutists who will condemn any restrictions on expression, even those required by law. Pacifica long ago adopted a policy on so-called "hate speech" so vaguely worded that it allows management to immediately terminate any employee or broadcast program on this pretext, though the continuing status of that policy is unclear. Past policies limiting the on-air discussion of internal grievances were rescinded in the settlement of lawsuits, but similar policies have emerged anew in at least one station area.
Most in Pacifica reject the idea that every regular program needs to generate sufficient listener income to pay for its production costs, but there is probably general agreement that each operating unit should be self-sustaining and needs to find a locally designed programming model that allows this. Nonetheless, in support of long-term growth strategies, the network has occasionally allowed individual stations to operate at a deficit for extended periods without significant National Office intervention.
15 OLD SPLITS AND FUTURE MERGERS
One result of the network instability that eventually led to major lawsuits was the breakaway of Pacifica's flagship program, Democracy Now!, which has become an independent entity. The agreement defining the current relationship was signed amidst controversy and is viewed by some as a lopsided and irresponsible giveaway. That agreement comes up for renewal in 2007, and improvement of its terms is unlikely if Pacifica has not by then established a credible network news and public affairs capability with which to improve its negotiating position.
At approximately the same time, there was growing disaffection with the Pacifica Network News over issues of bias and censorship. Traditional labor issues combined with these to result in a stringers' strike, and the striking workers eventually collectivized into Free Speech Radio News, which now serves as a replacement for Pacifica Network News on Pacifica's five sister stations and many affiliates.
A merger agreement bringing Free Speech Radio News back under the Pacifica umbrella is in its final stages. Although the editorial independence of FSRN will be protected in the agreement, the reclassification of some FSRN personnel as employees rather than contractors could have a major impact on current funding, increasing costs beyond the doubling that is currently anticipated.
The PNB passed a motion authorizing a day of fundraising to bring the short-wave broadcaster Radio For Peace International back on the air, but that effort has largely stalled, as it is conditional on a cooperative legal agreement. There are FCC, CPB, and IRS regulations limiting the ability of public broadcasters to raise funds for other non-profits, which were specifically waived for targeted fundraising related to hurricane Katrina. Unless Pacifica and RFPI negotiate a merger that allows compliance with these regulations, a similar waiver must be sought and obtained in advance of the proposed broadcast.
Most Pacifica stations are unable to satisfy the demands for airtime of their local programmers, so do not even rebroadcast or simulcast the best offerings of their sister stations. Some original programming from affiliates is of a higher quality than the Pacifica norm, but there is scarce consideration of such programs as alternatives to locally produced programming. Several affiliates recognize the enormous value and high quality of programming available from the Pacifica Radio Archives, and use this resource to provide their listeners with arguably better overall programming than is currently provided on Pacifica's primary outlets.
There is some thought that Pacifica's affiliates program, as distinct from the affiliates themselves, should be its own operating unit with a structure similar to that of the stations and the archives, with its own section of the budget and its own unit manager.
Pacifica has recognized the importance of affiliates by providing in its bylaws for two Affiliate Representative Directors on its governing board.
17 PENDING LEGAL
Most of Pacifica's old legal debt was settled and any remainder from the major lawsuits may not be collectible, but Pacifica still needs legal advice, frequently changes counsel, and is searching for new legal representation. There is current litigation around workplace complaints that poses some risk. Fully informing the PNB on legal matters in open session could compromise the Foundation's legal strategy or increase its liability. PNB actions and inactions around matters of delegate suspensions, LSB violations of bylaws, National Office resistance to director inspections, and alleged improprieties in future delegate elections could all end up in court battles.
18 CONTRACTS AND BUDGET OVERSIGHT
If the Foundation's Board of Directors is to exercise any level of fiduciary responsibility, it must at a minimum be positioned to prevent management from entering into expensive, long-term contracts adverse to the strategic goals of the network, even if those goals have yet to be agreed upon or adequately articulated. As a first step, the PNB is crafting policy to require notification to governance when contracts exceeding certain budget percentages or dollar amounts are signed. Similar notification requirements have been adopted with respect to large budget variances. If and when governance becomes an effective oversight mechanism rather than an impediment to operational flexibility, these notification requirements will be amended into an approval process.
19 INTER-DIVISIONAL TRANSFERS
Over the past decade, and especially during the Listeners Lawsuit, funds were transferred haphazardly around the network between its divisions in a race to meet legal bills and other urgent invoices. The National Office has prepared an accounting of these transfers and some attempt may be made to ensure that the debt represented has been or can be fairly distributed among the operating units.
20 CENTRAL SERVICES
Twenty percent of the listener income received from each station is "tithed" to the National Office as a Central Services fee, up from seventeen percent at the time of the lawsuit settlement, which was itself a big increase over the assessment in previous decades. It remains unclear exactly what services the stations may expect in return. Stations must donate additional funds to cover the costs of national special events coverage, and some General Managers have received invoices from the National Office for expenses that they thought should have been included in the fees already paid. There is some sentiment that a significant portion of the Central Services fee should be devoted to national programming as has been done in the past, and that the National Office is currently top heavy. Understanding at the local station level of the actual work done by the National Office is weak.
Rather than attempt larger assessments against the stations to meet its increased costs, the National Office has launched its own fundraising campaigns via direct mail. There is some overlap in these mailings with current membership, so there is concern at stations that these efforts may reduce local listener contributions.
21 GOVERNANCE GRIDLOCK AND MANAGEMENT OVERSIGHT
Much of the time of Pacifica's local governance, and to a lesser extent national governance, is spent in discussion of issues beyond the appropriate scope of the governance role or in the redrafting of proposals that should be referred to committees for that purpose. Committees, in turn, are often constituted so as to be fair or open or democratic, reflecting a misunderstanding of the appropriate role of most committees in assisting the work of the parent body. Governance members at all levels of the Foundation need training in the theories of policy governance, but are generally too inexperienced to recognize this need.
Factionalization and inexperience have worked to prevent boards from completing agendas, causing long delays in the accomplishment of bylaws-delegated tasks. At several stations, there is very little oversight of local management, though this should perhaps be governance's highest priority.
22 NEW TECHNOLOGIES
Pacifica has set itself a fairly clear direction with the Pacifica AudioPort, but there are imminent decisions to be made regarding digital broadcasting, opening up space for new content on the sideband. Pacifica should soon consider an entry into satellite radio. The success of Democracy Now!'s video simulcast suggests potential expansion of Pacifica's current multimedia limitations.
Some in the network would like all Pacifica content to be directly available to the public over the Internet. Others see this approach as a threat to potential income streams. Some sort of ongoing and continuously revised compromise in this area is likely as Pacifica expands its digital distribution and discovers how this impacts the structure of station operations. As the Center for Digital Democracy points out in "Beyond Broadcast: Expanding Public Media in the Digital Age," the old rules of production and distribution have changed.
"I've been talking with Lonnie about how to diversify our revenue sources by taking advantage of openings for new satellite and Internet channels as well as podcasting, and have been briefed about CPB standards and requirements to secure full future funding." --Greg Guma
The author of this paper, Terry Goodman, was a volunteer and then a full-time paid staff member at KPFK in the 1970's, serving as receptionist, board operator, phone producer, remote recordist, production engineer, disc jockey, documentary producer, maintenance engineer, traffic manager, and chief evening announcer, among other assignments. He was hired as KPFT's Operations Manager after being fired at KPFK, a position that turned out to be interim. Goodman returned to Pacifica as an Internet activist in December 2002, organizing in support of bylaws approval and membership elections. Terry's delegate campaign website is still up at http://www.flex.com/~tiji/.
A recommended reference source for readers interested in more information about current and recent happenings in Pacifica is the website of the Coalition for a Democratic Pacifica - New York at http://www.wbai.net.
"Beyond Broadcast: Expanding Public Media in the Digital Age" is scheduled for completion in July. Portions are currently available at http://www.democraticmedia.org/BB/BBfront.php.
Greg Guma's January 2006 address to the PNB is posted online at http://wbai.net/pnb/pnb_guma_remarks1-28-06.html .
Permission to repost is granted. For an MS-Word formatted copy of this briefing paper, contact the author at tijiATflex.com.
top of page | PNB index | home