The complainant wishes to be anonymous. The complainant states that KPFA listener candidate Mantra Plonsey stated falsely during the KPFA candidate debate recorded on July 24th that KPFA management canceled several shows including Discreet Music, Pushing Limits, Voices of the Middle East and Twit Wit Radio, the program the candidate herself was affiliated with. Plonsey mentions being locked out of the facility after the cancellation and uses the cancellations as a talking point for expressing a belief that the station should have a program council to vet program cancellations.
The complainant alleges that since candidate Plonsey named two shows in her 30 second statement that had not been canceled, along with two that were canceled by management, that Plonsey made a libelous or slanderous statement against other candidates and should be disqualified.
Discussion: Candidate Plonsey certainly mis-spoke. She mentioned 4 programs, two of which had been unilaterally canceled by management (Discreet Music and Twit Wit Radio) and two that had not been unilaterally canceled by management. (Pushing Limits and Voices of the Middle East and North Africa). We note that the candidate to whom Plonsey was responding did not utilize the rebuttal time to correct Plonsey’s statement nor did any other candidate in the remainder of the forum. We agree that the statement could be confusing to viewers and should be corrected.
With regard to a fair campaign violation, the rule invoked by the complainant reads as follows:
The Foundation and stations will not allow the expression of libelous or slanderous statements about candidates through any of its resources, whether on-air, web sites, or otherwise.
This rule has a two-prong standard, firstly that the statement or statements must meet the standards of libel or slander and secondly that the statement must be about other candidates.
Taking the second prong first, the statement addresses the actions of management, not the actions of any other candidate. The complainant alleges that by critiquing the actions of management in unilaterally removing programs from the on-air grid, Plonsey is somehow indicting all the members of the incumbent KPFA local station board as having caused the actions of KPFA management. Since factually the local station board has no direct veto power over the removal of programs from the schedule grid, it isn’t clear what any incumbent local station board member running for election in 2019 is being accused of, except not advocating more strongly for Plonsey’s preferred remedy of the restoration of a program council. The complainant alleges that Plonsey is accusing incumbent board members of allowing cancellations by management “on their watch”, but such a standard would be so overbroad as to prevent critique of any action by KPFA management that occurred in the last three years because it was “on the watch” of the incumbent members of the local board. Using that standard would essentially render issue-based dialogue impossible.
The other prong requires the statement or statements to meet the standard of slander. The legal definition of slander is:
The action or crime of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person’s reputation.
The gist of Plonsey’s statement with regard to KPFA management is that they took programs off the radio station’s grid. This is not surprising as it is part of their job description, and the job description of most radio station management, tosometimes take radio programs off the radio station’s grid. It is difficult to see, however popular or unpopular some decision might be with some quadrants of the listening audience, how it damages the reputation of the management of a radio station to state that they removed radio programs from a radio station’s on-air schedule.
The portion of Plonsey’s statement that was factually false: that the programs Pushing Limits and VOMENA were unilaterally removed from the station by management is not materially more damaging to management’s reputation than the portion of Plonsey’s statement that was factually true: that the programs Discreet Music and Twit Wit Radio were unilaterally removed from the station by management. Or the factually true statement that candidate Plonsey could have made but did not: that other programs like Guns and Butter and Counterspin were unilaterally removed from the station by management in the last few years. Arguably those two programs were as or more popular with at least some of KPFA’s members as the two erroneously mentioned by Plonsey.
Ruling: The portion of candidate Plonsey’s statement during the debate that is untrue will be corrected on the Youtube forum page and the elections.pacifica.org website to correctly identify the names of programs canceled and removed from the grid. No libelous or slanderous statement was made about other candidates.