Don Rojas, Executive Director of Free Speech TV. . . .
Where Television Is a Movement
By Annette Walker
During his two year tenure as Executive Director of Free Speech TV (FSTV), Don Rojas has achieved some of his goals to increase viewership and to augment and diversify its progressive programming.
Established in 1995 and first located in Boulder, FSTV is now headquartered in Denver at the Five Points Media Center. It is the first national television network whose mission is to expand the reach of social justice issues and ultimately to serve as a catalyst for social change. The founders wanted to provide an alternative to corporate-funded news and programming and counter the misinformation in mainstream media.
Now a multi-platform digital media pioneer, FSTV is best-known for its daily news and analysis programs. Among these are the Washington, D.C.-based Thom Hartmann Program and New York-based Democracy Now, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez. There is also a daily program produced by Al Jazeera’s English-language channel. FSTV also has broadened its scope and also features weekly public affairs series, investigative documentaries, personal stories, and keynote talks by leading thinkers. The network reaches 30 million U,S. homes, airing fulltime on DISH Network (channel 9415) and DIRECT TV (channel 348) and part-time on over 200 cable affiliates. There is also live streaming on the Web at www.freespeech.org.
FSTV is funded by viewer donations and foundation grants. There are no commercials and the network does not accept money from corporations.
According to Rojas over the past two years TV viewership has increased by 40%. He is especially proud of program innovations. "We are honored to welcome Senator Bernie Sanders (Dem. - Vermont) to our community," he said. "Brunch with Bernie" is produced in conjunction with Thom Hartmann and is a live call-in program where you can interact with the longest-serving independent member of the U.S. Congress."
FSTV held a special 6-hour broadcast during the 2010 midterm elections, featuring Denver's Gloria Neal as anchor for local guests along with Amy Goodman from New York and Thom Hartmann from Washington, D.C.
During his tenure Rojas has increased live coverage of progressive events, such as the NAACP's annual convention in Los Angeles last summer; the Netroots National Conference in Minneapolis; the Take Back the American Dream conference in Washington, D.C. featuring Van Jones, labor union leaders and grassroots organizers and activists; the U.S. Social forum in Detroit that attracted over 20,000 people.
One of Rojas' goals has been to increase FSTV's visibility in Denver's progressive, African-American and Latino communities. "We videotaped and later broadcast the keynote speech delivered by Ben Chavis at the annual banquet of the Colorado Association of Black Journalists," he said. "In addition we have partnered with Dr. Vincent Harding and the Veterans of Hope organization to present a special presentation by poet and activist Sonia Sanchez," The event was held at FSTV's studios with a live audience.
FSTV videotaped the lecture delivered by Dr. Elsie Scott, President (CEO) of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation in Washington, D.C. Her visit to Denver was coordinated by Rev. Ronald Wooding of Scott's Methodist Church, and she participated in the Crime Prevention Conference co-sponsored by the NAACP Youth Council.
Both the Sonia Sanchez and Elsie Scott presentations will be broadcast during February's Black History Month's programming.
There will be new programming for 2012. "We will launch a weekly "Occupy the Media" program in February because we view the 99% Movement as the most significant social and economic justice movement in the USA since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 70s," said Rojas. "In fact, Dr. King's dream of an America with greater economic and racial equality is alive and well in the Occupy Movement."
This year FSTV staff marched, videotaped and interviewed people in Denver's Martin Luther King annual Marade.
Rojas said that the 2012 election campaign coverage will commence in February. "FSTV is especially interested in the battleground states as well as the Republican and Democratic Conventions."
Other programming initiatives for this year are a redesigned and enhanced Website and an Internet radio project.
Rojas brings to Denver's media landscape an exceptional journalistic and communications background that encompasses an international perspective. A native of the Caribbean, he has held positions in African-American, Caribbean and alternative media. In the early 1990s he was Managing Editor of the New York Amsterdam News, the oldest surviving African-American weekly newspaper. He also founded the first African-American Internet initiative, the Black World Today and the Black world Radio Network.
He was Communications Director of the NAACP, Media Manager of Oxfam America and general manager of Pacifica's WBAI-FM radio station in New York City. Prior to that he was the press secretary to the late Prime Minister Maurice Bishop of Grenada. Rojas has worked as a journalist in Canada, Eastern Europe, Cuba, and Latin America.