A History of Free Speech TV

Free Speech TV was launched in 1995 as part of an effort to provide a larger platform for progressive perspectives on television. Founded by John Schwartz and co-founded by Jon Stout, Free Speech TV evolved from the popular The 90’s cable and PBS show and The 90’s Channel, a network of seven full-time cable channels dedicated to independent media.

The network’s pioneering efforts in streaming media online won it accolades such as a 1998 Streamers Award and a 1999 Webby Award.

In January 2000, Free Speech TV became a full-time channel on DISH Network, bringing truly independent reporting to a national audience. Following the World Trade Center tragedy on September 11, 2001, Free Speech TV helped launch the television premier of Democracy Now!, which remains one of the network’s most popular shows.

Free Speech TV also launched GRITtv with Laura Flanders and helped bring Thom Hartmann to television, deepening the network’s daily coverage of national politics. During the Arab Spring, the network pre-empted much of its regular non-news programming to carry Al Jazeera English’s exemplary on-the-ground journalism from Tahrir Square and other hotspots.

In 2008, the network piloted its “eStudio” at the National Conference for Media Reform, where it broadcast and streamed conference plenaries, workshops and special interviews conducted by Amy Goodman, Laura Flanders and Jeff Cohen. Since then, Free Speech TV has taken its eStudio on the road, broadcasting exclusive live coverage from the One Nation March, the Netroots Nation Conferences, Take Back the American Dream Conferences, talks held by The Nation and The New School, and the annual conventions of the NAACP, SEIU and LOHAS.

In 2011 and 2012, Free Speech TV coverage provided a unique window into the unprecedented battles to roll back workers rights in Wisconsin and other states, as well as the Occupy Wall Street movement. To facilitate a national dialogue, the network produced Occupy the Media, a weekly, live, call-in program that featured frontline activists, policymakers and those bearing the brunt of economic injustice. A hallmark of Free Speech TV-produced content, this series offered a national television platform for many of our peers in progressive radio, print and online journalism.

In 2010, the network secured a national channel on DIRECTV, launched on Roku in 2011, and full time cable channels in Burlington, VT and Ashland, OR in 2012.

In 2016 the network launched full time channels in Manhattan via Fios and Spectrum and added channels on Android TV and Amazon Fire. Free Speech TV’s television footprint has grown to over 40 million homes in the United States and reaches millions of viewers via various digital platforms.

Free Speech TV Timeline

  • 1989-92 “The 90’s” PBS-syndicated show
  • 1989-1995 The 90’s Channel, 2 hours/week in 24/7 rotation on 7 leased channels
  • 1995 John Schwartz & Jon Stout launch Free Speech TV, a 4 hour/week programming service on 50 public access channels & freespeech.org video streaming
  • 1998 FSTV helps launch Indymedia movement at WTO “Battle in Seattle”
  • 1999 FCC releases DBS public interest rules
  • 2000 FSTV launches on DISH Network, first national 24/7 independent, progressive TV network
  • 2001 FSTV brings Democracy Now! to television
  • 2002 FSTV covers international anti-war protests
  • 2007 FSTV launches current affairs magazine program “Source Code”
  • 2008 FSTV launches “GRITtv” with Laura Flanders
  • 2009 FSTV and Greenpeace cover COP 15
  • 2009 FSTV brings Thom Hartmann to television
  • 2010 FSTV launches on DIRECTV
  • 2011 FSTV launches on ROKU
  • 2012 FSTV covers Occupy Wall Street with weekly program “Occupy the Media”
  • 2013 launches Stephanie Miller & Bill Press
  • 2014 FSTV brings KPFK’s Sonali Kolhatkar to TV
  • 2016 FSTV launches on Amazon Fire & Android TV
  • 2016 “Crashing the Party” convention & election coverage
  • 2016 FSTV and MNN launch Spectrum & Verizon Fios Manhattan cable channels
  • 2017 FSTV onsite coverage of Inauguration/Women’s March
  • 2017 FSTV onsite coverage of Washington DC Climate March
  • 2017 FSTV onsite coverage of People’s Summit and Bioneers
  • 2017 FSTV launches new website
  • 2017 Lucy Flores & Imara Jones shows in development
  • 2017 FSTV launches on Sling TV  (Projected)
  • 2018 FSTV launches on Apple TV (Projected)