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Free Speech Uproar in Berkeley

July 14, 1999

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) _ A radio show host was thrown off the air and later arrested amid protests over the management of the venerable public radio station.

Dennis Bernstein, host of KPFA’s public affairs program ``Flashpoints,″ was placed on administrative leave Tuesday night for reporting about conflict with the station’s parent organization, the Pacifica Foundation.

``I’m flabbergasted that I would be pulled from the air ... by people who founded the station to stand as a bastion of free speech,″ Bernstein said. ``This is an absolute case of censorship.″

Bernstein was one of at least 40 protesters arrested Tuesday night for trespassing after they refused to leave the 50-year-old station. Seven other employees also were arrested.

The Berkeley-based foundation took over programming, replacing it with taped shows, Pacifica spokeswoman Elan Fabbri said.

Longtime staffers maintain that Pacifica’s board wants to give KPFA a more mainstream image so that it can attract corporate donations. KPFA executive director Lynn Chadwick had earlier ordered the staff not to discuss or report on the conflict, Fabbri said.

However, Bernstein ran segments of a news conference Tuesday by 14 protesters who were arraigned on civil disobedience charges for demonstrating in an earlier protest against changes at the station.

``All I heard was Dennis Bernstein speaking. He was at the press conference, he was talking about the labor dispute. It was in full violation. It was his voice,″ Fabbri said.

But Bernstein said he ``categorically″ denies being at the press conference.

``I was in a staff meeting with 20 people, including the executive director of Pacifica, when the press conference was held,″ Bernstein said today.

When news reporters told listeners that Bernstein had been placed on administrative leave, the newscast was cut off.

Since April, four people have been fired for denouncing management policies on the air and station manager Nicole Sawaya’s contract was not renewed.

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