EDITORIAL KQED, San Francisco's venerable public radio and television outlet, is trying to summarily abandon internal democracy. The station's management is sending out letters this week asking its 190,000 members to vote on a bylaws change that would eliminate direct election of board members and shift complete control of the station's operations to a self-appointed board. The proposal would also strip members of the right to vote on future changes to the bylaws.
This is a horrible idea and KQED members should reject it.
The bylaws change, KQED spokesperson Yoon Lee told us, comes in the wake of a May merger between KQED and San Jose's public station, KTEH, and is aimed at simplifying operations at the stations. Besides, she said, elections are expensive: KQED spends roughly $250,000 each time it chooses new board members.
Of course, the United States could save huge sums of money by canceling congressional elections and letting the House and Senate choose their own members, but that idea wouldn't get too far. Neither should the idea of the people — who pay for the programming, pay for the staff, pay for the salaries of the station executives, and pay for the elections — being cut out of the process.
For half a century, KQED has had a tradition of membership participation. It's been awkward and stilted at times (the board appoints its own slate of candidates, and it's tough for outside candidates to get on the ballot and get elected). But critics of station management have won seats on the board now and then, and their input has been tremendously healthy for the organization.
KQED has always needed independent watchdogs. For years, the station has poured money into bad projects and wasted cash on overpaid executives — at the expense of its primary mission, which is (and ought to be) to provide quality local programming. There's no KQED TV news show (although there used to be). Other than Michael Krasny on the radio, there's precious little in the way of local public affairs shows.
That's the kind of thing rebel board members like Henry Kroll and Sasha Futran used to bring up and force onto the agenda. They also made the case for letting the members — and the public — have access to the details of KQED's finances.
Lee says that none of the other big stations in the Public Broadcasting Service system have elected boards, but this is San Francisco, a city that takes its publicly supported institutions seriously and demands accountability. And locally, the direction of member-sponsored broadcasting is just the opposite: KPFA has gone to great lengths to elect a community-based board.
This is the last chance members will ever have to halt the corporatization of KQED. Most members just throw their ballots out; this time, it's worth taking a minute to vote no on the new bylaws. SFBG