Should I.N.N. and Free Speech TV (FSTV) Get Back Together?
But, INN did. Their door was open to all who had an important story to tell, regardless of their political persuasion - progressive, conservative, anarchist or libertarian.
For years, Lenny Charles, INN's founder/producer, and his band of under and non-paid staff struggled with scant financial support to bring cutting edge news to the public. So, why did INN quit FSTV? The straw that broke the camel's back, according to Lenny, was an unfavorable time slot that was imposed on INN in order to accommodate Laura Flanders' GRITtv. The schedule changes caused INN's major financial supporters, particularly on the West Coast, to back out.
Jon Stout, general manager of FSTV, said he believed that INN's new time slots were still good and that 73% of their viewers tape their shows, anyway. He may be right. But the fact remains, INNís financial backers departed with the arrival of the new schedule. Besides, why not accommodate a guy and his staff who have done so much with so little? Stout did say to this journalist that before the split he had wanted to talk to Lenny about joint fund-raising efforts. So, maybe there's still hope.
The initial deal between INN and FSTV was that the latter would provide funds to pay for INN's satellite feed ($20,000 annually) and occasionally throw a few thousand bucks INN's way. Other than that, INN was on its own. That deal stands in stark contrast to Amy Goodman's Democracy Now and Laura Flanders' GRITtv, which both receive substantial support from FSTV, according to sources. Granted, Amy Goodman probably raises more money for FSTV than her show costs, but that's not the point. Or, maybe it is.
Since when is a news show's access to the airwaves based on how much cold hard cash it rakes in? When the federal government first leased out broadcast rights decades ago, radio and television networks were obligated to provide public service announcements and/or 'the news' as a condition of their license. For similar public-benefit reasons, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gave away bandwidth to nonprofit Educational Broadcast Services (EBS) providers for the purpose of educating the public, which includes news shows. Then, why are these same interests demanding that these news shows be able to fund themselves?
Isn't it a conflict of interest to be reporting the news on one hand, while accepting funds with the other hand, funds that come from organizations and individuals who most certainly have an agenda? Instead, shouldn't there be a protective wall of sorts between those who provide the news and those who raise the funds, so that the news isn't tainted? Think about it. FSTV likes the fact that Amy Goodman raises lots of money, some of which has reportedly come from large corporate charitable foundations. But, could that also explain why she shies away from certain topics?
The most important thing about Lenny and his staff was that they were (and still are) approachable. Not to harp on Amy, but that has not been my experience with her show. Make no mistake, I watch Democracy Now, and most of their work is very good and much appreciated. Although the style of the show (which includes some really irritating music) and the constant repeat of the "war and peace" stuff, gives a misleading impression that the show has a narrow focus, which I suspect puts off many middle-of-the-road viewers who would otherwise watch. Much more importantly, Goodman avoids some of the most crucial issues of our time. For years she ignored the electronic voting debacle. A few corporations electronically count 95% of all votes with no possibility of meaningful public oversight. What could be more important then that? Voting is the foundation of democracy. Yet, it was only before the 2008 presidential election that she finally invited some activists on her show, something INN had been doing with regularity for years. Goodman wouldn't even invite award-winning producer/director Dorothy Fadiman to talk about her film documentary, Stealing America: Vote By Vote. In contrast, one call to Lenny, and Dorothy was in the INN studio the next day. Similarly, Goodman's refusal to give 911 meaningful coverage, resulted in an organized campaign dubbed, "Waking Amy". It led some observers to question her relationship to the corporate foundations who have helped to fund her growing news network. Again, in contrast, INN gave 911 investigations early, ongoing, and complete coverage with little in the way of financial support.
If in the past, FSTV itself was stretched for funds, those days should be
gone. FSTV's is funded through John B. Schwartz's Public Communicators, Inc.
(PCI), which received its initial funding through Schwartz's other
Colorado-based non-profit educational broadcasters, including the
Instructional Telecommunications Foundation (ITF). Although these
organizations weren't wallowing in money for many years, that can no longer be
said. Thanks to a January 2005 FCC decision, non-profits that
hold educational broadcast licenses on the 2.5 GHz microwave band, can lease
out up to 95% of their bandwidth (which the FCC had given to them for
free) to commercial interests. Years ago, Schwartz made it his business to
scoop up lots of that bandwidth. In 2008, Schwartz's ITF made a deal with
Clearwire that reportedly netted ITF a cool $20 million (out of $23,175,916
revenue amount listed on their IRS 990 form). It was the first installment of
a rumored much larger deal. So, there is definitely money to go around, if
Schwartz so decides.
Meanwhile, INN needs our help. What can you do? Call Jon Stout (303-442-8445 ext.117) and tell him you want INN back on the air with money to boot and at good time slots, as well. Plus, I'm giving INN (through their website) a monthly contribution, regardless of whether they are on television or online only. I know they've got lots of bills. And after all, it's the least I can do for all they've done for all of us.