In 1999, thousands marched in the streets of Berkeley when KPFA’s parent organization Pacifica tried to censor reporting and discussion of developments in the network — including criticism of Pacifica — on the station’s air. Now, in 2011, during a time of heated labor conflict between KPFA staff and Pacifica management, it appears network officials are again censoring the story by imposed a “gag rule” on some programmers at KPFA Free Speech Radio.
On Tuesday, host Mitch Jeserich invited Pacifica executive director Arlene Engelhardt and KPFA interim program director Carrie Core to appear on Letters and Politics today to discuss the mass email they sent this week to thousands of KPFA listeners about the station’s finances and recent layoffs. They declined. Jeserich had also invited KPFA union steward Sasha Lilley to come on the program and talk about CWA Local 9415’s perspective. Jeserich informed Core of his plans in person and in writing. Yesterday, Core and Engelhardt responded via email that, “we have decided not to permit further discussion of KPFA internal disputes (including personnel or financial matters) on your program at this time.”
They stated that the new interim general manager Andrew Phillips, whom Engelhardt selected before KPFA’s staff or board even knew that the previous interim general manager had left, would review the matter when he starts next week. “In the meanwhile,” they wrote, “you are not to go ahead with your plan to include guests on Friday’s program who will be discussing the internal personnel matters or to conduct any other discussion of KPFA’s internal disputes on your program until further notice.”
Last week, Core disciplined KPFA News Co-director, and CWA Contractual first Vice-President, Mark Mericle for the language he used in a news story about the layoff of union member John Hamilton, whose last day is March 30th. She said that Mericle should not have used the word “layoff” and stated that a disciplinary notice would go into his permanent file. Core also disciplined union members Hamilton and Jeserich for mentioning internal business on the air. CWA says such moves are retaliation against protected union activity and it will fight them.
We ask that you speak up for Free Speech Radio. Please contact Engelhardt and Core and let them know you that you oppose a gag rule at KPFA! Tell them that their actions are anti-union, violate principles of free speech and accountability, and place in jeopardy KPFA’s important role as an independent source of news and information.