Free Speech Radio News (FSRN) began in 2000, when freelance correspondents then filing for Pacifica Network News (PNN) went on strike against the Pacifica Network. The strike was called when the Pacifica Network banned discussion of internal governance matters on Pacifica stations, and then fired staff who aired such discussions. Subsequently, PNN silenced its own news staff who reported on these developments—even as the mainstream press carried dozens of stories about the same events. The crackdown on free speech within Pacifica was part of a general move to the right in its newscasting, toward “safer” and “softer” news stories that avoided controversial issues and grassroots perspectives.
The freelancers formed an organization, Pacifica Reporters Against Censorship (PRAC), which mirrored their belief that in order to promote and support nonviolent social change, citizens need honest, critical, in-depth reporting on struggles for social and economic justice around the world. Free Speech Radio News (FSRN) was born from that belief less than two weeks after the start of the Pacifica freelance reporters’ strike.
Initially conceived of as a weekly “strike cast” which would provide a venue for striking reporters’ work and raise funds to help support them while on strike, two months later it was running on over two dozen community radio stations across the country. Both listeners and station managers requested that FSRN produce a daily cast which could replace PNN in station programming, and in May of 2001, this dream became a reality.
Free Speech Radio News, organized as a worker-run collective, developed during a time of immense technological change. FSRN was a pioneer of decentralized news production with its staff working in a virtual newsroom while geographically located in cities around the country and around the world. The internet, sophisticated audio applications, and other digital advances at the time offered exciting possibilities for transforming progressive media and made the grassroots collection of news from around the world possible – bringing instant, widespread, and convenient access to sources of information that were previously unavailable for many people.
In its first year, FSRN was carried on forty-eight stations across the nation. During the ensuing years, the newscast grew in contributors, staff and station carriage. At its height, FSRN was carried on nearly 100 stations across the US and on short-wave around the globe.
As Pacifica moved away from the iteration of leadership in power when the strikers began FSRN, the network and newscast reached a détente. FSRN and Pacifica established a contractual relationship, and the newscast became the network’s national news program available to the five Pacifica stations and the network’s affiliates. Funding for FSRN came from individual listeners, major donors and community radio stations. Major support came from the Pacifica Foundation.
In 2013, Pacifica failed, for the second time, to meet its financial obligations to FSRN and the newscast was forced to end production as a daily radio show. On February 11th, 2014 – the anniversary of FSRN’s first newscast in 2000, FSRN launched a new website and began again to distribute news, though in a limited capacity. In May, 2014, FSRN began publishing FSRN Weekly Edition .