U.S. military served by one-of-a-kind news channel

By George A. Smith
AFN Public Affairs

Imagine all the hyper-competitive U.S TV news networks, including those with vastly different political perspectives, agreeing to donate their shows free of charge and share airtime with rivals.

That’s exactly what U.S. commercial news organizations do for America’s most deserving audience. They donate their shows to the American Forces Network (AFN) so U.S. military and DoD civilian personnel serving overseas can watch U.S stateside coverage on the AFN|news channel while serving their country overseas.

AFN|news Programmer Mike Roberts has strong feelings about what AFN does.

“I think the channel’s identity goes beyond having the best shows from the top networks and airing breaking news in real time from around the world. Sure, we do those things. But to me, personally, the mission is to maintain our viewers’ connection to what I like to call ‘the American conversation,’” he said.

Roberts took to social media to interact with the overseas audience about AFN|news during a live social media chat earlier this week. He explained that while the most popular news programs in America are the NBC, ABC and CBS weekday newscasts, with many times the average all-day viewership of cable news channels, 90 minutes of traditional news isn’t enough to fill a 24-hour channel. That’s why AFN|news relies heavily on a proportional mix from cable news providers such as Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC to fill the rest of the day.

AFN|news is a dynamic TV service. Roberts said while it carries 94% of the most popular U.S. news shows, it continually goes to breaking news. Overall, 61% of programming airs live simultaneously over more than 20 time zones.

Before joining AFN on Valentine’s Day of 2011, Roberts reported on the news extensively in his more than 20 years with CBS, NBC, ABC and CNN affiliates. News is as much a part of him as his right hand. He feels strongly about putting quality shows on the air with different viewpoints.

“Our charter specifically states that our audience has a right of access to diverse topics and contrasting perspectives, and our job is to create that access. We will never censor or edit,” said Roberts.

He has his own way of describing AFN|news’ unique makeup.

“When people ask me what AFN|news is, here’s what I tell them: it’s the home of your right to know.”