Free Speech TV is the opposite of Fox News
"Anti-Fox" FSTV Wants a Spot on Comcast
by Joanne Ostrow
Denver Post TV Columnist
May 5, 2011
Free Speech TV bills itself as the antidote to Fox News. And no doubt anyone right-of-center would see this independent, nonprofit, Denver-based network as a radical liberal haven.
Progressives Tom Hartmann, Amy Goodman and Laura Flanders hold forth daily with a worldview quite opposite that of Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Mike Huckabee and the crew on Fox News.
You are forgiven for not knowing FSTV's channel number offhand.
It is a rather obscure destination, particularly in its hometown, where it is not available on the dominant cable system. However, after 15 years in existence, the netlet is itching for its close-up.
"We believe noncorporate media also has a place at the table," says Free Speech TV executive director Don Rojas.
Specifically, "We need to be on Comcast," adds general manager Jon Stout.
Upstart networks have been jockeying hard for cable positions since January, when Comcast promised to add numerous minority and special-interest channels in exchange for government approval of its takeover of NBC Universal. Free Speech TV wants, and believes it deserves, a shot.
From modest headquarters at 2900 Welton St. in the Five Points Media Center, where KUVO and KBDI also reside, a staff of 16 labors to put the progressive viewpoint across. In crowded quarters surrounding a fair-sized studio, idealistic 20- somethings stare at monitors and laptops, and rehearse pledge- drive pitches in front of cameras. Executives pride themselves on carrying coverage of the Arab Spring uprisings from Al Jazeera English, and syndicated blasts at "corporate media," news regarding civil liberties, immigration, the environment and abuses of power.
Free Speech TV is available part time on 200 cable affiliates in 39 states; Dish network channel 9415; DirecTV channel 348; and live streaming on the Web at freespeech.org.
Last month FSTV started a news headline program, four minutes at the top of the hour.
In September, the network will begin producing a half- hour daily news program - heavy on analysis - to run in the early evening, covering national and global news, with some local stories, as well.
Amy Goodman's New York- based "Democracy Now!," for years the most popular show on FSTV, was recently eclipsed by Tom Hartmann's program, a national TV feed of his radio show from Washington, D.C., studios.
"That's a similar kind of arrangement we'd like to have with David Sirota," says Rojas. He's waiting to hear from Clear Channel about turning the last hour of author, Denver Post columnist and radio host Sirota's KKZN show into a national program. If approved, "We will put TV cameras into the Clear Channel studio."
Free Speech TV is theoretically available to 35 million households via satellite but is actually seen by "hundreds of thousands" on any given day. The streaming numbers have increased substantially in the past year, especially in Denver, where it's not on cable.
"We plan to apply for a Comcast diversity/public interest channel by end of the month," Rojas said. Comcast has announced plans to launch several new channels, including African-American, Latino and Asian, in order to clear regulatory hurdles.
"Our pitch to Comcast is, consider us as a public-interest channel that covers a lot of diversity issues around the country," Rojas said. "Treat us the same way Dish and DirecTV do."
Rojas, a longtime journalist, activist and new-media innovator, has secured letters of support for the Comcast bid from former Denver Mayors Wellington Webb and Federico Peña, as well as from the NAACP and the Urban League.
A Comcast spokesperson on Tuesday said the company is not currently in discussions with Free Speech TV and won't comment on future programming decisions.
The liberal Free Speech TV maintains it is "political but nonpartisan. We're not a left-wing propaganda machine for the Democratic Party the way Fox News is for the Republican Party - and they make no bones about it," Rojas said. "We are progressive in our politics, critical of the Obama administration when we need to be, not wedded to any unit of the Democratic Party."
FSTV, a nonprofit, gets 70 percent of its funding from viewers, the rest from foundations. The shoestring annual budget is $3.5 million. The audience is mostly male baby boomers; eventually, they'd like to reach a younger, more mixed crowd.
The immediate goal is expanding the Web presence, knowing it will take at least a year to get onto Comcast. Deals with Hulu, Roku and other streaming devices are possibilities.
The longer-term objective is nothing short of challenging the dominance of Fox News. "We have the potential to grow into a countervailing force to right-wing TV and radio," Rojas said.
In his view, CNN is too safe; MSNBC is too subject to the whims of corporate owners and advertisers.
Free Speech TV doesn't have those problems: "We want to be the anti-Fox."