KPFA: Will new gag rule kill ‘Free Speech Radio’?

by Minister of Information JR
San Francisco Bay View, March 27, 2007

On Friday, Sasha Lilley, interim program director of KPFA, the station long known as “Free Speech Radio,” imposed a gag rule on KPFA broadcasters, saying: “KPFA program hosts may not actively urge listeners to attend events. This is the case whether during a regular program or a special remote broadcast.” The full text of her email follows this story.

The issue started when Miguel Gavilan Molina, executive producer of La Onda Bajita, co-founding producer of Flashpoints in Español and a 25-year veteran KPFA programmer, was utilizing the KPFA airwaves to urge youngstas in the Mission and other listeners to attend last Saturday’s rally marking the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq. Sasha Lilley’s email was addressed to him.

Now whether this is a part of some right-wing agenda or self-censorship under the Bush regime’s Federal Communications Commission, the fact remains that KPFA broadcasters have been stripped of their most fundamental power, the power to promote events and urge people to attend demonstrations and hearings.

The fact of the matter is that all radio stations, no matter where they are on the political spectrum, promote events. Clear Channel, the corporate media monster, has been engaged in promoting pro-war rallies – yet KPFA broadcasters can’t promote anti-war rallies?

“Where’s the legal opinion to justify this gag rule, and when did the KPFA Board, that we elected, authorize such a basic policy change?” asked Willie Ratcliff, a former member of the Local Station Board and publisher of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper.

What is also notable about this email is that it says, “This is a second notification.” A third notification means that this producer will be banned from the KPFA airwaves.

In a March 20 email, Dennis Bernstein, executive producer of Flashpoints, the investigative news hour broadcast at 5 p.m. weekdays on KPFA and dozens of other stations around the country, responded to Sasha Lilley: “It is further troubling to me that you are now threatening to remove Miguel Gavilan Molina from the air, based on a show which featured some of the most marginalized youth of color, some speaking out on the radio for the first time, speaking because Gavilan gave them a platform and they trusted him.

“These are kids who have been raided by the feds, beaten by the police and often separated from their families. They trusted Gavilan because he was them; he had his father ripped out of his arms and stolen, and watched as his mother was beaten unconscious for trying to resist. Yes, this was the kind of program that puts the community back in community radio. And for this you sent him a punitive warning, and now he’s a step away from being taken off the air.”

Radio has been and is one of the most popular media because it doesn’t require people to look at anything and can be listened to while people are commuting from their jobs.

KPFA radio, in Berkeley, was founded by Lewis Hill, a pacifist and journalist, in 1949, and was the first community supported radio station in the country. It has 59,000 watts of power and reaches about a third of California on terrestrial radio. KPFA – at 94.1 FM or http://www.kpfa.org, where you can listen to live and archived shows – is the flagship station in the Pacifica Network, which includes four sister stations: KPFK in LA, KPFT in Houston, WPFW in DC and WBAI in New York.

Many in the Bay Area are content with saying that KPFA is the best station on the dial, without knowing that every day has been a fight for political broadcasters, especially Black and Brown ones.

It is also important to show that in ‘07, KPFA still doesn’t have a show that speaks to the concerns of the Black community domestically. Since management hasn’t authorized such a public affairs show to be on the KPFA programming grid, POCC: Block Report Radio has hooked up with Flashpoints during their prime time slot to occasionally expose the world to the concerns of Black people who live within the listening area of KPFA on the terrestrial radio dial, as well as our national and international concerns.

And let me remind the readers of the Bay View and listeners to KPFA that Lemlem Rijio, the interim general manager of KPFA, is an African woman, which further reminds us that it is not just about Black and White, it is about politics and interests.

In another recent occurrence that didn’t get a lot of coverage, Youth Radio, a program that teaches radio production skills to Bay Area youth from low income backgrounds, especially youth of color, had their weekly show canceled off of the air because of some cuss words in a song. Yes, this is a FCC violation that KPFA did not get charged for, but to kick them off of the air without any warnings is kind of extreme.

Youth Radio was the first radio school for many of KPFA’s young producers, including Anita Johnson of Hard Knock Radio, Nora Barrows-Friedman of Flashpoints, Devrol Ross, executive producer of Side Show Radio and production director of KPFA, and T-Kash, producer of the Friday Night Vibe, just to name a few of the staff that came through this valuable Bay Area radio industry channel.

Brian Edwards-Tiekert, a 20-something white producer for KPFA Evening News, repeatedly said the word “shit” on the air during a news broadcasts late last year. Needless to say, he was not penalized, suspended or kicked off of the air, nor was the Evening News.

“The core power of KPFA is racist, and Democrat … That’s who’s running it … They are the worst kind of racists because they’re in denial of their racism the same as a drug addict in denial,” said former KPFA broadcaster and revolutionary journalist Kiilu Nyasha, who produced and hosted a monthly show called A Luta Continua, part of the series, Freedom Is a Constant Struggle, from ’91 to ‘95. “How can you have (revolutionary) politics, when you haven’t dealt with your own classism and racism?”

Speaking about the purge of KPFA’s progressive broadcasters in 1995, Kiilu said: “I went to all the meetings where we tried to make them act right” before “Freedom…” and other radical programs were surreptitiously cancelled. “They then gave Jerry Brown a daily show. Look at (California Attorney General) Jerry Brown now, the Chief Pig. The reactionaries got more reactionary.”

Many are puzzled as to what listeners should do about the criminal radio junta that currently runs KPFA. They overthrew the last two general managers – both Black – Gus Newport and, more recently, Roy Campanella Jr. They selectively enforce policies that they have created, even though policy making is legally the responsibility not of management but of the Local Station Board of KPFA and the National Governing Board of Pacifica.

Many of the staff inside the station and the SF Bay View newspaper are considering promoting a boycott of the May fund drive and an email campaign to Greg Guma, executive director of Pacifica, until he fires the current KPFA administration or they resign. This will be the test to see if Pacifica is truly “radio with a conscience” like it states on its myspace page.

Are the forces running KPFA trying to drive away listeners so that the station can be bought? Will progressive broadcasters and broadcasters of color continue to be targeted and kicked out of KPFA? Will we let them succeed? As Malcolm X (El Hajj Malik El Shabazz) used to say, “Only time will tell.” The death of KPFA as we know it is around the corner if we fail to act decisively now.

To contact Greg Guma of Pacifica, you could email him at greg@Pacifica.org; also cc your comments to blockreportradio@gmail.com so that we could keep a record of what the community thinks about these new happenings. You could also leave your comments with the KPFA Local Station Board at (510) 848-6767, ext. 635, or in writing at http://www.kpfa.org/lsb/contactform3.php.

Email POCC Minister of Information JR at blockreportradio@gmail.com, and listen to the Block Report at hiphopwarreport.com or myspace.com/blockreportfilm.

SIDEBAR:

KPFA gag rule announced

Following is the email from Sasha Lilley exactly as it was received:

March 16, 2007
To: Miguel Molina
Re: Call to Action on Flashpoints

While Hosting Flash Points on Thursday 3/15, you urged people to attend the rally scheduled for Sunday 3/18 at Civic Center Plaza by telling listeners to “be there”.

Due to issues of liability, KPFA programmers are not permitted to urge listeners to attend an event. If damage suits stem from injuries suffered at an event, KPFA could be held liable for actively urging participation.

Last Year, on March 22nd, following a remote broadcast from a rally in San Francisco, Chief engineer Michael Yoshida sent a memo to you and the other producers of the rally asking you to be aware of and prevent such language in future broadcasts.

This is a second notification.

KPFA program hosts may not actively urge listeners to attend events. This is the case whether during a regular program or a special remote broadcast.

Thank you for your cooperation

Sasha Lilley
Interim Program Director

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