The independent daily news program, Free Speech Radio News (FSRN), is off the air this week after its 13-year stint as one of Pacifica Foundation Radio's flagship national and international newscasts. FSRN announced last week that Pacifica's past-due balance to the network is $198,000 and that fundraising efforts have not been sufficient to keep the show on the air.
Ripple effects are being felt by community radio stations that had relied on the broadcast, as producers at FSRN's carrier stations are scrambling to fill the thirty-minute time slot. Along with Pacifica's most popular program, Democracy Now!, FSRN was a key source of international on-the-ground reporting for many of those stations.
“It was actual reporting, not just comments by armchair pundits,” News Director at WPFW in Washington, DC, Askia Muhammed says. “We had been using FSRN because I believe it is a quality service that provides information and content often unheard on other programs.”
Muhammed's station is staffed by about nine volunteer producers and office managers and one part-time director. Like many community radio stations, WPFW must now decide whether it will seek a replacement for FSRN's international coverage or fill the slot with other types of programming.
Evan Davis, a board member for WCRS community radio in Columbus, Ohio, says his station is considering other syndicated program options. But, he says, “our strong preference would be to see FSRN return. Any other syndicated news programs we schedule in those hours will be considered temporary as we are still holding out hope for FSRN.”
The independent daily newscast gained a following because of its coverage of under-the-radar stories, often connecting the dots among social justice, human rights, and peace and security topics.
“The thing that I think is extraordinary about FSRN is that it is an incubator of grassroots journalists,” says Joel Edelstein of KGNU in Boulder, Colorado. “There are so many international producers that have started out with FSRN.”
Edelstein's station will continue to broadcast Democracy Now! and the BBC Newshour, but the fact-based reporting FSRN gained a reputation for will be sorely missed, he says.
Pacifica Foundation Radio announced last week that they have reached an agreement, in collaboration with the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, with independent broadcast news agency Feature Story News (FSN) to provide a thirty-minute news broadcast Monday through Friday, beginning this week. FSRN's former DC editor, Alice Ollstein, will be a featured contributor on a contract basis.
“We had to have an immediate replacement,” Pacifica Interim Executive Director Summer Reese says, adding that, “I don't know what FSN will cover. It's more of a public broadcasting package and won't necessarily have the same focus.”
But, Reese says, if former FSRN reporters want to contribute “on a freelance basis,” they're welcome to submit to FSN.
Pacifica has also been in dialogue with the video news and documentary network The Real News about continuing coverage. Both FSN and The Real News “are very aware of who we are and what our philosophical views are,” Reese says.
Many community stations in Pacifica's satellite network got wind of the new FSN offering last week and are including it among their options for FSRN's replacement. Yet Richard Pirodsky, General Manager of Pacifica affiliate KPFA in Berkeley, California, says that, “at this time, we don't know what the final word is on FSRN.”
FSRN's demise comes amid other major changes in the broadcast media landscape, includingAl Jazeera's move to take its English newscast off the air in the US because of restrictions imposed by cable providers after the launch of Al Jazeera America, which remains exclusively a television network. With the loss of two major international syndicated radio newscasts, community stations now face more limited options in international coverage.
“We all want to see FSRN return to the airwaves,” says Reese, adding that they're working with FSRN's producers to find a solution. “All I can say is we're in communication, and we're looking at addressing the gap.”