Citizen Weyrich: NET's Conservative Media Empire

Article excerpt

National Empowerment Television (NET) is a satellite television station broadcast from Washington, D.C. and run by the Free Congress Foundation (FCF). NET is transmitted via the Hughes Communications satellite Galaxy 7 and is available free and unscrambled throughout the continental United States, Canada, and Mexico. Describing itself as "C-Span with an attitude,"(1) the station's programming presents contemporary political issues from the point of view of both the secular and Religious Right. The December 1993 launch of NET was not, as this invocation of "new technologies" suggests, the originary moment of a new television channel. Rather, NET represents the public component of a Conservative television service that had already been in existence for four years.(2) Since 1990 the FCF had been transmitting (via satellite) activist programs organized around specific lobbying concerns to small groups of subscribing affiliates nationwide. This subscription service was originally called National Empowerment Television. It changed its name to C-NET (Coalitions National Empowerment Television) when the free 24-hour public station was launched at the end of 1993 as NET.

Originally transmitted on the non-commercial Ku band, C-NET produces four monthly shows tailored to specific constituencies: Family Forum Live addresses white middle-class "pro-family" activists; A Second Look Live is targeted at black Conservatives: Campus Connection is aimed at college students and Empowerment Outreach Live speaks to business people. These shows discuss specific legislative issues, usually pending state and federal legislation, and direct viewers to lobby appropriate politicians with letters and telephone calls.(3) This format is the television equivalent of direct mail (without requests for money) and has been used to organize Conservative activists around such issues as gays in the military, school choice, and health-are reform. In contrast to the public service rhetoric the FCF uses to characterize NET, Paul Weyrich described it as a "megaphone in the hands of the people:"

C-NET represents a long-term commitment to covert political activism pioneered by the FCF as part of a wider strategy to intervene in the U.S electoral system in order to shift political representation further to the right. C-NET addresses a narrow, preselected audience and changes its broadcast coordinates regularly to prevent unauthorized reception by non-subscribers.(4) The FCF is an umbrella group and organizing center of the secular and Religious Right and functions as the ideological complement to the Heritage Foundation.(5) The two work together to produce, disseminate, and implement a coherent Conservative ideology. NET is a product of this collaboration: the Heritage Foundation has provided both programming and staff for the new station. Both institutions were rounded in the '70s by Weyrich with financial support from Conservative businessman Joseph Coors and philanthropist Richard Mellon Scaife.(6) A former chief assistant to Coors told journalist Sara Diamond that the FCF, the Heritage Foundation and the Moral Majority were ostensibly secular organizations "intended to mobilize Conservative Christians and shift the political make-up of Congress."(7) Supplementing the Heritage Foundation's economic focus, the FCF undertakes the training and support of Conservative political candidates at all levels, and the development and promotion of an ideology of "Cultural Conservatism."(8)

NET was launched on December 6, 1993 ostensibly as a new interactive channel that would provide Americans with long denied access to government in Washington. Although it is primarily distributed by satellite, the FCF hopes that NET will eventually get picked up by local cable services when the transfer from coaxial to fiberoptic cable increases available channel space. Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcast Network (CBN), has courted a similar audience as NET since its inception as a satellite station in 1977 and transition to cable. …