David Mandl on Fri, 16 Jul 1999 19:21:48 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Latest on KPFA c/o SF Examiner (fwd)

Arrests at KPFA after another firing 
By Ilene Lelchuk 
Wednesday, July 14, 1999 
1999 San Francisco Examiner 


BERKELEY - Hundreds of noisy protesters stormed Berkeley's beloved public
radio station and drew dozens of police after KPFA management dismissed
its third radio host in three months, a tussle heard on the air by shocked

Fifty-two people were arrested during Tuesday's conflict, including Dennis
Bernstein, who hosts the station's public affairs program "Flashpoints."
Bernstein was taken into custody five hours after being pulled off the air
and refusing to leave the building.

At least seven other employees and station volunteers were arrested when
they refused to disperse, along with 44 protesters inside and outside the
listener-supported station on Martin Luther King Way.

The street demonstration was expected to continue Wednesday.

The protest, which quickly escalated and brought police in riot gear,
began just before 6 p.m. as Bernstein ended his one-hour program. He aired
segments of a news conference held earlier in the day about 13 protesters
who were arraigned Tuesday on trespassing charges for demonstrating
against personnel changes at the station last month.

Bernstein violated orders not to report about growing tensions between
KPFA and its parent company, the Pacifica Foundation, station spokeswoman
Elan Fabbri said.

Listeners said Bernstein spent only the last few minutes of his broadcast
on the KPFA struggle, but Fabbri said he spent his entire hour violating
the station's policy. She later admitted, however, hearing only a few
minutes of the broadcast.

About 6:10 p.m. Bernstein, off the air, was informed that he was being put
on administrative leave, according to witnesses.

Somehow his ensuing struggle with Pacifica guards went on air, breaking
into a newscast under way.

Another host tried to explain what was happening but management shut him
off, leaving listeners with dead air for a few minutes.

"There was all this yelling and the Flashpoints host said, "I'm afraid I'm
going to get hurt!' and then there was nothing," said longtime 94.1 FM
listener Felicity Buxton of San Francisco. "It was totally frightening."

"A bastion of free speech'

Bernstein maintains he was just reporting the news.

"I'm flabbergasted that I would be pulled from the air . . . by people who
founded the station to stand as a bastion of free speech," Bernstein said.
"I believe this is about First Amendment rights. This is an absolute case
of censorship."

Pacifica canceled all live broadcasts and replaced the evening news with a
taped Marxist-Maoist analysis of the 1960s.

Taped lectures continued throughout the night in what staff and protesters
called a corporate coup and the death of the nation's oldest public radio
station, now 50. Some employees remarked as they left the building Tuesday
night that they did not expect to have jobs when they returned Wednesday

"It is unbelievable that a journalist can be roughed up on the air, yanked
off the a said Bernstein's attorney, Van Jones of the Ella Baker Center
for Human Rights.

Bernstein's dismissal touched off a massive community response. KPFA
supporters flooded the station lobby, sat down and refused to leave even
under the threat of arrest. Those who finally did leave on their own were
cheered by demonstrators awaiting them outside.

"KPFA sparks a lot of emotion. I just started listening three months ago
and I never figured I'd be here," said 21-year-old Jon Logan of Benicia as
he left the lobby. He sped to the station as soon as he heard the on-air

Among those arrested were demonstrators who sat or laid down in front of a
police paddy wagon, refusing to allow it to leave.

After police cleared the lobby at station management's request, two
Berkeley councilwomen arrived to discuss the situation with KPFA and
Berkeley Police Chief Dash Butler.

Vice Mayor Maudelle Shirek later announced she would introduce an
emergency resolution demanding that Pacifica begin mediation with KPFA
staff and the outraged community.

"It will take more than the police'

Butler, looking weary as the arrests continued, also called for immediate

"We tried as hard as we could to de-escalate the situation, but it will
take more than the police," he said.

Complaints about the direction and control of the station - considered the
last bastion for liberal voices - have been increasing since April after
popular station manager Nicole Sawaya's contract was not renewed.

Since then, broadcaster Larry Bensky and volunteer folk music host Robbie
Osman were fired for denouncing management's policies on the air.

And more than a dozen KPFA supporters were arrested during a protest at
the station in June, when they refused to move away from the entrance to
allow Pacifica Executive Director Lynn Chadwick inside.

Longtime staffers maintain that Pacifica's board wants to give KPFA a more
mainstream image so that it can attract corporate donations. Others worry
that KPFA might be sold to a commercial buyer.

An e-mail written by a Pacifica national board member that mentions his
interest in selling was intercepted Monday by the San Francisco-based
Media Alliance, a First Amendment watchdog group that has been monitoring
the deepening rift at KPFA.

That news had been announced in Tuesday's press conference, snippets of
which Bernstein used on Flashpoints.

A gag order curbing staff

Tensions may have started even earlier that day, however, according to
co-news director and anchor Aileen Alfandary. Tuesday morning Chadwick
issued a memo reinstating a gag order curbing staff from commenting on the
air about its struggles with management.

Chadwick also alienated staff this week, Alfandary said, when she brought
in Garland Ganter, the station manager of KPFT in Houston, one of the five
radio stations Pacifica owns and operates. He was the manager who put
Bernstein on leave Tuesday.

In other developments Tuesday:

*An e-mail that might finally confirm long-running rumors that the
Pacifica Foundation plans to sell KPFA and WBAI, its New York City station
was intercepted by a member of Media Alliance. The e-mail allegedly from
board member Michael Palmer is addressed to Pacifica board chairwoman Dr.
Mary Frances Berry. The e-mail mentions that Palmer consulted a radio
broker who believes a commercial radio company would buy KPFA for $65
million to $75 million.

Palmer could not be reached for comment, but Fabbri, the station
spokeswoman, confirmed that Palmer accidentally misfired the e-mail to
Media Alliance. She stressed, however, that Palmer is alone in his desire
to sell.

"Dr. Berry never had a conversation with him about this and she doesn't
think we should sell any frequencies," Fabbri said.

*An attorney representing community advisory boards from Pacifica stations
in Los Angeles, Berkeley and New York announced he will file a lawsuit
this week aimed at Pacifica's recent elimination of local input in
national board member elections.

*Pacifica announced that it brought in Ganter to get it through this rough
spot. Ganter called the shots Tuesday night and was viewed as a hired gun
by many staffers, but a source close to his Houston station said he is
well liked there and considered a hands-off manager who brought KPFT back
from the brink of financial despair.

*Thirteen of the 14 demonstrators arrested June 21 during the protest in
front of KPFA were arraigned in Alameda County Municipal Court in Berkeley
on Tuesday. Another protester was scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday.
Judge Carol Brosnahan set an Aug. 23 trial for the first group.

KPFA, one of the original FM stations, is a 59,000-watt radio station with
about 30 paid full-time staff and 200 volunteers. Marianne Costantinou and
the Associated Press contributed to this report.

1999 San Francisco Examiner   

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