Visit to Free Speech TV

I’ve been in the Denver, Colorado area since Sunday, and had the opportunity to make a trip to Boulder yesterday, which is the home of Free Speech TV.

FSTV is the first and only nationwide progressive satellite TV channel, airing on Dish Network, with some programming picked up and rebroadcast on public access TV channels all over the place.

FSTV’s program director, Eric Galatas, was kind enough to take some time to meet with me, show me around their offices and do a short interview that will air on next week’s mediageek radioshow. Eric is an independent video veteran, producing a radical magazine program on Seattle public access during the mid-90s, and was part of the collective that assembled the first Independent Media Center in Seattle for the 1999 WTO ministerial meetings.

The FSTV offices are located in an unassuming little office building on Boulder’s East side, and the only hint that something more radical is going on is when you walk in the door and start noticing bikes parked in the hall and political posters along the stairwell leading to their suite.

They uplink the programs to Dish by converting everything to MPEG2 format — used in DVDs and direct-broadcast satellite TV (DBS) — and essentially queing it to a server, which then sends it via fiber to an uplink facility in Cheyanne Wyoming. It’s a pretty interesting and simple setup that is quite different from the usual broadcast model that uses a human operator who has to do all the queueing and switching in real-time (though much of it is automated now).

I found out that FSTV only has the money to purchase about 160 hours of programming a year. The rest of the programming has to be acquired for free from all sorts of independent producers looking to get their work seen. That means a lot of effort is spent going to film festivals and reviewing tapes to find good stuff that meets FSTV’s progressive mission.

FSTV also produces a small amount of programming, such as coverage of activities surrounding the 2000 Democratic and Republican national conventions. They also broadcast a video version of the popular daily progressive radio news program Democracy Now.

FSTV was one of the main reasons why I subscribed to Dish Network, after never before subscribing to any kind of cable or satellite TV. Although it’s a traditional non-profit corporation, with a traditional hierarchical management structure, Eric told me that he tries to run the programming department as collectively as possible. His department provides some valuable support to the US Indymedia Newsreal, in the form of some staff time, access to facilities and, importantly, broadcast airtime.

A 24-hour full-time progressive TV network capable of reaching the entire country is a valuable thing, indeed. It’s evidence that there are occasional chinks in the corporate media armor, and they need to be exploited for all they’re worth.