Owned and operated by the Colorado-based Public Communicators, Inc., Free Speech TV (FSTV) aims to “expand social consciousness” and thereby “fue[l] the movement for progressive social, economic, and political transformation.” The ultimate objective, says FSTV, is the creation of “a more just, equitable, and sustainable society.”
FSTV was founded by activist John Schwartz, co-developer, in the late 1980s, of The ’90s Channel, which bought access to feed independent leftist documentaries to eight cities via United Artists Cable (UAC). After UAC was acquired by Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI), the new owner demanded that Schwartz pay TCI nearly $250,000 per month to keep The ’90s Channel on the air. Schwartz refused, and began distributing his programs to other cable-system access channels under the new name Free Speech TV, which he formally established in 1995.
From 1995 to 2000, FSTV provided weekly programming via videotape to a network of 50 community cable channels. Its fortunes were greatly affected when the Bill Clinton administration in 1998 began pressuring satellite direct-broadcast TV providers, the emerging competitors to local cable systems, to set aside at least 4 percent of available channels for commercial-free public access for alternative voices. In January 2000 the DISH Satellite Network agreed to make its public-access channel 9415 available to FSTV.
FSTV’s leading news and analysis programs today include:* The Big Picture with Thom Hartmann and The Thom Hartmann Show, whose host was named, by Talkers Magazine, as the most important liberal host in American media each year from 2008-2011;
* Gay USA, a weekly show offering “comprehensive news and analysis by and about the LGBTQ community”;
* Enviro Close-up, which promotes the anti-corporate, anti-nuclear, anti-oil industry agendas of the radical environmental movement, and warns of “the devastating consequences” that will result if “unified worldwide action” is not taken “to deal with global warming”;
* In Their Boots, a magazine show about “the dramatic impact the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are having” on Americans “here at home,” delivered from an anti-war perspective;
FSTV also airs radical documentaries and higher-budget films produced in collaboration with other far-left organizations, or “partners,” such as Global Exchange, and International ANSWER. In 2003, then-spokesperson Linda Mamoun wrote that FSTV’s partners in producing some of its anti-war programming included the two aforementioned groups as well as the American Friends Service Committee, the Institute for Policy Studies, the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Not in Our Name, United for Peace & Justice, “and other groups opposing military intervention.” FSTV has also, on occasion, partnered with Human Rights Watch.
FSTV’s programming commonly casts Israel in a negative light. Among the station’s report banners in 2005-06, for instance, were the following: “Deaths of schoolchildren expose Israeli brutality”; “Zionist settlements expanding in West Bank and Gaza”; “United Nations report: Israeli forces have inflicted a ‘reign of terror’”; “Questioning the Legitimacy of the Israeli State”; and “Can there be peace and justice in the Middle East if Israel exists as a Jewish State?”
In September 2011, FSTV criticized President Barack Obama for opposing, “without giving any good reason,” the Palestinian bid for United Nations membership. Further, the station condemned Israel’s 44-year “occupation”; its establishment of “illegal settlements for nearly half a million Jewish residents on Palestinian land”; its erection of “a wall of separation” (a reference to the anti-terrorism barrier in the West Bank); its “siege” of Gaza (a reference to the seaport blockade designed to prevent Gaza’s Hamas-led government from importing weaponry); and its denial of “the rights of return for Palestinian refugees.” A leading reporter at Free Speech is British journalist Robert Fisk, a hostile critic of Israel.
FSTV lists, among the “proud highlights” of its broadcast history, its coverage of:
Reaching 35 million U.S. homes, FSTV is available 24 hours a day via satellite on the DISH Network and DirecTV (since 2010), and part-time on some 200 cable affiliates in 39 states. Its programs are distributed at no cost to these carriers. For its program content, Free Speech relies heavily on the Independent Media Centers. On the Internet, FSTV’s website features videos-on-demand as well as a 24/7 online channel.
FSTV’s national advisory board includes such notables as Tariq Ali, Jeff Cohen, Barbara Ehrenreich, Amy Goodman, and Dee Dee Halleck.
For a complete list of all board members, click here.
High-profile individuals who have delivered keynote addresses at FSTV events include Woody Harrelson, Dolores Huerta, Desmond Tutu, and Howard Zinn.
FSTV’s executive director is Don Rojas, who has previously worked as a newspaper editor, general manager of WBAI-Pacifica Radio in New York, communications director for the NAACP, media manager at Oxfam America, Internet publishing executive with The Black World Today, and press secretary to the late Prime Minister Maurice Bishop of Grenada.
FSTV is a commercial–free entity supported by its viewers and by a number of charitable foundations. In its early years, Free Speech received financial backing from the Gill Foundation, the Glaser Progress Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the William H. Donner Foundation. More recently, donors have included the Alphawood Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, the LEF Foundation, the Otto Haas Charitable Trust, the Park Foundation, and the Tides Foundation.
For additional information on FSTV, click here.