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Pacifica Foundation Will Shuffle Board, Let Local Activists Run Radio Stations

Logo - Wall Street JournalDecember 12, 2001 | The Wall Street Journal

By David Bank

The Pacifica Foundation, owner of five nonprofit radio stations, agreed to restructure its board to give control to local activists, who are expected to restore the stations’ left-leaning programming.

The settlement agreement appears to end a two-year struggle for control of the radio network, which included midnight lock-outs and noisy sit-ins at KPFA-FM in Berkeley, Calif., and WBAI-FM in New York. Pacifica also owns KPFK-FM Los Angeles, KPFT-FM in Houston and WPFW-FM in Washington.

The settlement, which ends four lawsuits pending against the foundation and members of its board, also includes a $400,000 insurance payment to the foundation to settle claims of “corporate waste” by individual board members. A lawyer for the plaintiffs said the funds would help ease the radio network’s financial crisis.

“The significant thing about the settlement is the current majority has agreed to give up power, to give up control of the board,” said Adam Belsky, lawyer for the state of California and the group of listeners who brought the lawsuits. “The programming is going to change. The fundamental direction of the organization is going to change.”

During the dispute, all but one of the Pacifica stations dropped the daily public-affairs show, “Democracy Now,” for example. Even under the current board, Pacifica features reports such as an interview with Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

Under the settlement, the current minority on the 15-member board will gain control for an interim period, during which it will draft new bylaws and hold new elections. The lawsuit had charged the board acted illegally when it changed bylaws to reduce the power of local station boards. Robert Darby, a lawyer for the Pacifica Foundation, said the settlement included provisions to encourage consensus among the board’s factions. He said all decisions would require the vote of at least one member of the current board majority or be passed by two-thirds.

The lawsuit was sparked in April 1999 when Pacifica’s board fired the manager of the Berkeley station. After on-air protests of the dismissal, the foundation ordered a lockout of the staff, prompting noisy street demonstrations outside the station. Programmers were also fired at the New York station and at other stations.

The foundation, formerly based in Berkeley, moved its headquarters to Washington during the course of the dispute.