The independent, daily half-hour international news program Free Speech Radio News will air its last edition this Friday, September 27. According to a memo from the FSRN board of directors the organization is carrying just over $200,000 in accounts receivable, $198k of which is owed by the Pacifica Foundation. As of September 13 FSRN had $32,000 in the bank, facing an estimated $29,000 in financial responsibilities to bring things to a close over the following two weeks.
It is clear that Pacifica’s financial crisis is the major cause behind FSRN’s closure. Since 2008, when it paid FSRN $50,000 a month, the network has incrementally reduced the amount it pays FSRN for the right to air the program on its stations. FSRN’s Nell Abram says that this year Pacifica reduced monthly payments “from our most recent contract for $25K a month to $10K a month.” The program costs $36,000 a month to produce.
Right now Pacifica is awaiting a delayed disbursement from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Abram said that Pacifica’s interim executive director Summer Reese “has promised us a large–but not full–payment when they receive their funds. But even if we receive that payment it will only delay the inevitable.”
Last year FSRN turned to its listernship to help close its funding gap, raising $100,000. I asked Abram if there is any chance that listeners can do anything to avert the September 27 closure.
She said that while they successfully raised $100,000 in “grassroots dollars,” the organization “simply can’t count on that kind of ongoing financial support to keep FSRN afloat. It’s not sustainable.”
Abram explained that “the gap left by the overdue balance owed to us plus the reduction in our monthly contract with Pacifica is just too large to keep turning out our daily newscasts.”
However, she did say “If FSRN listeners have connections to major donors or private foundation, or (have) any other suggestions regarding funding sources, we would love to hear them.”
While the current incarnation of FSRN is going away the board of directors said they are working on a sustainable business plan that “will take FSRN into the next phase.”
Abram added that FSRN “can always use seed money” to assist the organization in researching these sustainable alternatives.
I asked her if there was anything she and her fellow FSRN staffers would like listeners to know. Abram said “we are touched by the email and calls of support, and expressions and explanations of how important FSRN has been to our listeners and our reporters. The FSRN staff has been long honored to work with an amazing group of freelance professionals… We honor their dedication to their craft and their commitment to independent news.”
The closure of FSRN will be a tremendous loss to the 100 stations that air the program, and those stations’ listeners. FSRN was born out of an earlier crisis at Pacifica more than 13 years ago, when freelancers reporting for Pacifica Network News went on strike to protest the actions of Pacifica management, including accusations that freelancers’ reports were being censored.
The striking freelancers poured their energies into creating FSRN, in order to provide community radio stations with an independent, uncensored news alternative to PNN. In March 2002 the strike ended when FSRN was picked up by Pacifica, replacing PNN altogether.
Some 11 years later this chapter FSRN comes to a close. I hope that the organization is able to find a way to fill the enormous hole that will be left behind.