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.

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