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|by Paul DeRienzo
According to former PNB member Ken Ford the Pacifica crisis was precipitated in February 1999 when the PNB, then chaired by US Civil Rights Commission head Mary Francis Berry, voted unanimously to make changes in the governing structure of the Foundation. PNB members said they were being forced to comply with rules of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The CPB had told Pacifica that the PNB had to sever ties with the Local Advisory Boards of the five Pacifica stations (KPFA, KPFK, KPFT, WBAI, WPFW) to stay eligible for CPB funding. Although largely supported by listener subscribers a significant portion of Pacifica’s funding is provided through the CPB. According to Ford their was a “huge uproar” that the PNB had become “self appointing” and had taken control from the LABs. However, Ford states, as do many other former PNB members that the LABs never had management control over Pacifica or its stations.
Ford adds that the first person to raise the LAB issue was KPFA programmer Larry Bensky. Bensky discussed the issue on his show “Living Room” and was suspended for violating what Ford call the “non-disclosure” rule. Ford contends that although Bensky and another KPFA programmer, Dennis Bernstein, “hated each other” they came together against a “common enemy, the Pacifica Foundation.” According to Ford Bernstein “used Bensky.”
Speaking on the WBAI program Let’em Talk on April 16, 1999 Larry Bensky stated that he believes that the crisis at KPFA began when former Pacifica National Director Lynn Chadwick refused to renew KPFA General Manager Nicole Sawaya’s contract. Bensky says Chadwick forced KPFA to play a statement on the air Chadwick claimed was intended “to clear the air.” Bensky asserts that “she made statements about me in that three-minute harangue which she ordered broadcast several times on KPFA.” Bensky says when it came time to do his program, which was then broadcast nationally, he played the Chadwick tape and then discussed internal station business on the air in violation of the Pacifica’s “dirty laundry” policy. Bensky says his on-air statement was “about how concerned I was as a person who’s been with the organization longer than just about anyone, about what I saw as more top down authoritarian behavior and wasteful, self-perpetuating bureaucracy.” A few days later Bensky was fired.
Ken Ford has a different take on what prompted Bensky to go the airwaves. Ford maintains that Bensky wanted to be “put off the air.” When Chadwick became national director of Pacifica, she refused to renew Sawaya’s contract because as Ford asserts Sawaya “wasn’t what we wanted.” Ford adds that Bensky and Bernstein wanted Sawaya as GM since “they could control her.”
Meanwhile Ford adamantly contends that Democracy Now host Amy Goodman was “stealing money, as were people at KPFA.”
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