From Our Executive Director

Why Free Speech TV Matters More Than Ever

Free Speech TV is a bold and crazy experiment that asks the question: can an independent, progressive, national television network survive in the era of Trump?

Regardless of who’s in the White House, progressive media has always had its share of challenges.

But in this historical moment, our little network, powered by a small but mighty staff and kept on the air by the fierce support of our viewers, is truly the David facing a Goliath that grows larger and more ominous every day.

We all know that democracy can not survive long without a free press. Today, we find ourselves in the middle of an epic battle over the future of America, with media on the front line.

We’re now facing well-coordinated attacks designed to limit the free flow of information across the web and television. The stakes—whether the internet will remain free and open or be privately controlled by a handful of billion-dollar media conglomerates—could not be higher.

Former Verizon lobbyist and Trump FCC Chair Ajit Pai is leading the commission’s Republican majority in an effort to repeal net neutrality. If they’re successful, the fight will next move to the courts (and congress if the Democrats see a wave election in 2018).

If net neutrality is repealed, you can bet that current opponents like Google and Netflix will cut their deals to access prime bandwidth, while Free Speech TV and the rest of the independent media community will be banished to the slow-to-load, hard-to-find lane. As will every small business, individual blogger and non-profit, unless they, or the consumer, pay up.

The web is also under increasing attack by the relentless deployment of fake news, hacking attacks and sophisticated disinformation campaigns.

Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year 2016 was “post-truth”—an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.

According to Buzzfeed, in the last three months of the recent presidential election cycle, fake election news on Facebook generated more engagement than stories from major news outlets such as The New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC and others combined.

Now television, still the place where a majority of Americans get their news, is undergoing a wave of further consolidation, with powerful right wing business interests moving rapidly to control more and more of what Americans view every day.

The conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group is likely to win approval to purchase Tribune Media, creating the largest TV station group in the country, with more than 200 stations reaching 72% of U.S. television households.

Sinclair can be expected to insert “must-run” conservative commentary segments into its new affiliates’ local news programs, like those already airing on Sinclair networks featuring former Trump White House official Boris Epshteyn.

The Koch brothers are major backers of the purchase of Time Inc., the owner of titles including Time, People and Sports Illustrated by the magazine publisher Meredith Corporation. Iowa-based Meredith has agreed to a $650 million cash investment from the Kochs through their private equity arm. Expect some interesting new choices for Time’s Person of the Year.

The truth is, the Right has been building highly effective (and partisan) media companies in television for decades. From Fox News to Newsmax, from The Blaze to the One America News Network, conservative and far-right voices are growing aggressively in number, size, and influence.

That influence is poised to spread even further now that former Trump adviser Steve Bannon is reportedly in talks to launch the Breitbart News Network—with backing from his billionaire friends Robert and Rebekah Mercer. They believe that Fox News has gone soft, failing to vigorously defend and promote Donald Trump and the white nationalist populist movement.

But there is hope: You can counter this onslaught of misinformation, hate speech, and fake news by tuning in and turning up Free Speech TV.

In this post-truth world we now live in, Free Speech TV defends facts. We lift up voices that would otherwise be drowned out. We hold an invaluable and increasingly endangered space in television and on the web.

But the future of Free Speech TV—the very survival of this bold and crazy experiment—is not guaranteed.

We are walking a razor’s edge between staying true to our mission and surviving in an economic and media environment that rewards everything we are not and never will be.

Since our founding more than 23 years ago, our “business model” has been clear, consistent and elegant—ask our viewers to become our partners.  

If a real alternative is what you seek, you have found it. If that alternative is something that you want to see flourish, reaching more citizens and influencing the direction of our society in this critical time, then I invite you to join us in this work.

We may not have billionaire friends or corporate owners, but we have something far more powerful—you.

In gratitude,

Ron Williams

Executive Director, Free Speech TV