In the wake of a charge that it broadcast an anti-Semitic program, KPFK-FM (90.7) is scrambling to smooth over the controversy by planning future programs on multiculturalism and holding a meeting with Los Angeles County human relations officials. In the meantime, management at the non-commercial station has warned staffers not to discuss the issue on the air.
The Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission earlier this month charging that during a segment of its "Afrikan Mental Liberation Weekend" on Feb. 1 and 2, KPFK engaged in "a lengthy diatribe against the Jewish community" and violated the FCC's personal attack rule.
During the 30-hour program, producer-host Kwaku Person-Lynn, a professor of African-American history at Cal State Dominguez Hills, criticized Jerry Shapiro, associate director of the Anti-Defamation League in Los Angeles, for refuting his contention that European Jews were major perpetrators of the slave trade and had financed the bulk of it.
The Jewish organization said that the "honesty, character and integrity" of both it and Shapiro were attacked.
The controversy has triggered concern at the station, which prides itself on its liberal leanings and its efforts to give voice to groups that traditionally have not had access to the mainstream media.
In a memo circulated this week, just as KPFK was beginning an on-air fund-raising drive, Fong urged employees and station volunteers not to discuss "black-Jewish relations" in broadcasts because of the pending matter before the FCC.
Fong and the Pacifica Foundation, which owns KPFK, have denied to the FCC that the broadcasts violated the regulatory agency's rules, and have defended them on First Amendment grounds.
Nevertheless, in an effort to restore good relations, KPFK General Manager Alan T. Fong met Tuesday with the ADL--under the auspices of the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission--and has extended an offer to ADL members to discuss their views on the air.
"We recognize their concerns," Fong said in a telephone interview. "We'd like to have more dialogue. We need to look at being able to listen better, absorb better, build better radio out of the experience."
Fong said he plans to produce a series of radio shows on multiculturalism that "talks about what ideal race relations ought to be like. We will explore in a series of programs in late May, early June, more about the reasons why people need to express their empathy for each other, rather than clawing each other. . . . I want less separatism. I need to think of how our station can be a forum for a variety of voices."
Shapiro said that his organization complained to the FCC to call attention to overtones of anti-Semitism on KPFK.
"KPFK is an important platform and should be for progressive causes," Shapiro said. "But when it descends into bigotry and anti-Semitism, it becomes a platform of intolerance and runs counter to everything that ideally it should stand for and support. Alternative voices have a place there but I do not think for a minute that you would find gay-bashing permitted or anti-black racism. Nevertheless, you can find anti-Semitism on that station, which indicates there is tolerance for at least one kind of hate speech, and that is very disturbing to us."
Shapiro accused Person-Lynn of "using the 'Afrikan Mental Liberation Weekend' as a sounding board for his own hatreds, his own reconstructions of history, casting Jews as the villains. . . . Person-Lynn has a fixation on Jews, especially with regard to the slave trade to the exclusion of any other groups' participation in the slave trade. He stigmatizes one entire group for the misdeeds of a few and that's exactly the kind of practice that bigots have long engaged in. And, as we pointed out in other situations, not only Jews but blacks have suffered from the same kinds of stigmatization."
Person-Lynn, who is black, denied being anti-Semitic and maintained that he is merely a scholar bringing to light alternative theories on the black experience.
"It's been an extremely unfair attack based on scholarship that they did not want broadcast to the public," Person-Lynn said in an interview. "They are labeling me a bigot based on scholarly information."
Person-Lynn admitted to calling Shapiro a "European idiotic psychotic" on the air and said that he "could have used better terminology."