Dear Friends and Supporters of Vancouver Cooperative Radio:
The Voice of Palestine Collective (VOP) is issuing this position paper on the first motion we introduced at the Coop Radio AGM on Nov. 27/11 regarding the formation of a committee to investigate the process around Coop Radio’s recent “frequency swap” deal. The second motion called on Coop Radio to support the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel and we will issue a second position paper on that motion at a later date. We were disappointed that both of these draft resolutions were defeated because of the ramifications for the reputation, democracy and future health of our station. As members who have dedicated a quarter of a century both to our own show Voice of Palestine and to Coop Radio and alternative media, we present our ideas in the spirit of furthering dialogue and strengthening progressive principles. We feel that such a process is clearly not “a waste of time” and that this kind of constructive interaction is something that is urgently needed at Coop Radio with open debate on the role and parameters of alternative media.
We were hoping that our first motion, which called for an independent investigation into Coop’s “swap agreement” with Jim Pattison Industries and the secrecy that surrounded it, would ultimately answer all questions about the deal. Since that option has failed, we are left with no choice except to go to the membership at large and raise our major concerns regarding this action, and its possible violation of the democratic process and universal cooperative principles. It is worth noting that we had discussed this motion with two Board representatives the week prior and had even agreed to amendments they had suggested; we were under the impression that the Board saw the value of this resolution and would support it, but regrettably, when it came to the AGM, they were either curiously silent or voted against.
The Coop Board started negotiations in secrecy with Jim Pattison Broadcast Group and Jim Pattison Industries representatives before July 2, 2010, which is the official date the application first went to the CRTC. However, the negotiations were never brought to the attention of the membership at the November 2010 AGM and during that whole period, may never even have been recorded in the Board minutes. The first time Coop members were made aware of this huge undertaking was when the CRTC opened the application to the public for comment on Dec. 9, 2010; as members, we had no more rights or privileges than any other member of the general public regarding this pivotal action of our Coop. We do not understand why the Board did not include a clause in the agreement that the deal must be verified by the members, similar to the process in trade union negotiations i.e the negotiating committee operates in confidentiality, but with the provision that the final deal must be approved by the membership. Although in that situation, members at least know in principle what their representatives are negotiating about; Coop’s membership never empowered the Board to negotiate on their behalf regarding the sale of Coop Radio’s assets, and a simple election of Board members cannot be considered a mandate for such an action.
Frequency Swap or Frequency Sell-out?
To call the deal with Jim Pattison Industries a frequency swap is misleading; what actually happened is the sale of the majority of our frequency capabilities to a reactionary commercial multinational corporation and we feel that this is against cooperative principles and the public interest.
Let us look at the “frequency swap” deal. It was not a simple exchange between Coop Radio’s frequency 102.7 MHz (channel 274B) with the 100.5 MHz frequency (channel 263C) held by the Jim Pattison Broadcast Group Ltd. It also included the reduction of the average effective radiated power of Coop Radio from 5,500 watts to 2,800 watts and increased the average effective radiated power of Pattison’s station from 2,800 to 51,000 watts. In plain terms, Coop radio lost (actually sold for $1,437,000) 48,200 watts of average effective power to Jim Pattison Broadcast Group Limited. (1) It is worth noting that the “radio spectrum is an essential and increasingly scarce resource” (2) and is a strategic asset that can be used in cell phone and internet technologies. (3) Further, it is no secret that Pattison is known for his long term business planning. (4)
Was there an obligation to get membership approval?
We feel that to sell the assets of Coop Radio in secrecy without any mechanism for consultation with the members is not only undemocratic (the concept of democracy being that members legislate … board executes), it is also against Coop Radio’s Memorandum of Association. Rule 56 of that Memorandum states “All meetings of the directors shall be open to all members of the Association provided that the directors may meet in camera with respect to personnel matters including matters concerning union negotiations affecting its paid staff. The board of directors shall have the power to formulate and implement the policy of the Association and to co-ordinate the activities of the Association in conjunction with the direction of the membership”. It is clear the only exception for secrecy is: “personnel matters including matters concerning union negotiations affecting its paid staff”; it is also clear that all Board activities should be carried “in conjunction with the direction of the membership”. Further, in regards to the assets of the Association, rule 64 (when talking about a less serious transaction such as using the assets as collateral for borrowing money) states: “PROVIDED that if any security proposed to be given in the exercise of this power is intended to charge the whole or substantially the whole of the undertaking of the Association, this power shall not be exercised by the directors without the authority of a special resolution of the membership of the Association.” And even if the Association has gone bankrupt, according to rule 74, the “assets shall be given or sold to another Association, society, corporation, whether incorporated or not, having similar objects to this Association.” We doubt Pattison’s multinational corporation would qualify for any of the cooperative objectives.
A universal definition of a cooperative’s General Assembly is that it is “the highest policy-making body of the co-operative and is the final authority in the management and administration of the affairs of the co-operative.”(5)
One of the powers of the Cooperative General Assembly is: “To approve developmental plans of the co-operative”. (6)
In a recent interview (7) on our sister station CKUT in Montreal under the title of “NCRA: reclaim your Radio”, an American activist Petri talked about the struggle to reserve public frequencies on the airwaves for community radio and social justice work; he likened it to the preserving of public parks, the concept that our community frequencies are an important asset to be guarded for future generations. It is always more convenient and profitable to sell public spaces to commercial developers for profit; regrettably, this is what the Board of Coop Radio did because we were short on money, even though lack of finances has been a constant theme throughout our history. Coop Radio never believed in commercialism in its programming, always believing we should count on our own resources rather than seek commercial advertising. However, what is the lesser of the two evils:- commercial advertising or selling out the assets of the members and the public? Why did the Board not consider both (or other options)? And again, all options should have been put to a vote by the membership for a final decision.
Most of the universally recognized cooperative principles were sacrificed by this sell-out deal, especially the first and the seventh. The first is volunteerism and the seventh is “the concern for community by working for its sustainable development through policies approved by the cooperative members” (8) (item3). These principles were not honoured; democracy was replaced with back-room deals and self-reliance was replaced by reliance on corporate handouts that may lead, despite the best intentions, to the demise of the station when Coop runs out of money.
Who is Jim Pattison Anyway?
Jim Pattison, sole owner and CEO of the Jim Pattison Group, is worth $US 5.8 billion (as of March 2011), and was ranked by Forbes as the 3rd wealthiest person in Canada and 173rd in the world (9). His media group is the largest in Western Canada and owns 29 radio stations and three TV stations (10) and is still expanding. Pattison is a true representative of the 1% Canadian rich who are monopolizing wealth for their personal interests. He is also a reactionary Evangelical Christian Zionist (or as the Israeli media called him, an “Evangelical billionaire”) who has financially supported many right-wing projects, including just this year a donation of $2.9 million to “Israel Journey”, a project co-funded by the Israeli state that even some teachers in Israel have called “incessant indoctrination”. (11)
All the above issues need to be discussed and clarified. We believe that the Board’s decision to sell off the assets of the station and the subsequent CRTC decision (in which the CRTC claimed to have concern for Coop Radio’s future) are damaging and do not serve the public interest at large. We also believe that the crux of this debate is the understanding of the function of community and alternative media. Is it the role of alternative media to constantly challenge the political status quo and distance ourselves from the corporate media, even if it involves risks? Or are we simply here to protect whatever gains we have achieved? Can we do both and which approach actually endangers our future more as the “voice for the voiceless”? This is why we are calling for a special general meeting to be held in the spring of 2012 to discuss ways to rectify what we feel is a deviation from cooperative principles, to learn from our mistakes and to reclaim our radio station. Perhaps we can learn from our own history – in a final note of irony, it seems Coop Radio actually intervened with the CRTC to try and block (unsuccessfully) Jim Pattison’s early expansion into the Kamloops broadcast market back in 1987. (12) We may be moving to the left on the radio dial, but we seem to moving in the other direction in our policies and practice.
We ask Coop members who support our position to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to add your name to this request for a special general meeting.
Voice of Palestine Collective