WASHINGTON (November 2, 2004) -– Broadcasters' public interest obligations include airing religious programming, according the comments filed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops with the Federal Communications Commission, and recent "treatment of religious programming indicates that local broadcasters are more interested in commercial gain that in serving their communities' interest in religious matters."
The bishops' conference filed comments Monday in the FCC's "notice of inquiry" on local broadcasting. Relying on a survey conducted over the summer by the USCCB Department of Communications of diocesan communications directors, the Conference related examples of dioceses forced to pay for time for local programming that was once free to them, programming that simply had to be discontinued for lack of free air time, and programming "banished to graveyard times when few are in the audience."
The comments cited long-standing policy that includes religious programming in broadcasters' public obligations.
"In 1960, the FCC clarified a broadcast licensee's obligation to serve the public interest by issuing programming guidelines. The guidelines included, as one of the 'major elements usually necessary to meet the public interest, needs and desires of the community in which the station is locatedů [including] Religious Programs.' In 1971, the FCC further assisted broadcast licensees to meet their statutory obligation to serve local needs and interests by developing methods to determine those needs and interests, one of which was to interview community leaders. Among these community leaders listed by the FCC as appropriate for broadcast licensees to interview are religious leaders."
Dioceses reported that the demand that they pay for time began in the late 1980s, the USCCB told the Commission.
"These dates are no accident. In 1984, the FCC began to dismantle the system of broadcast regulations which have promoted broadcasters' ties to their communities of license.
The FCC opened the notice of inquiry into broadcast localism on July 1. Monday was the deadline for submissions, with reply comments due December 1.
NOTE: The full text of the comments is available on the Web at: www.usccb.org/comm/archives/2004/04-216a.shtml.