More government meddling with the media

By Reed Irvine and Cliff Kincaid

February 9, 2000

The headline, "White House Cut Anti-Drug Deal with TV," screamed across the front page of a recent Washington Post. The paper was horrified that producers of prime time shows had agreed to government requests that anti-drug themes be inserted into them. In exchange, the networks didn’t have to run anti-drug public service ads and could sell that time to corporate advertisers. Both the government and the networks came out winners. And, hopefully, these anti-drug messages did some good. But the controversy suggested to some that the White House was exercising secret influence over the broadcast networks.

Media outrage seems to be very selective. The media have showed very little concern about a recent government announcement that it intends to monitor and possibly restrict some religious programming on television. This announcement, made by the Federal Communications Commission, the FCC, was inspired by the protests of a group called the Pennsylvania Alliance for Progressive Action, a coalition of liberal activist groups. They had been griping about a religious television station in Pittsburgh with an educational license that was said to be airing the views of people critical of the homosexual lifestyle. A spokesperson for the group said, "That’s not what public television is meant to be."

On the other hand, if public television stations air programs promoting the homosexual lifestyle, that is perfectly acceptable to them. It appears that what motivates their opposition to religious programming is the conservative nature of so much of it.

The announcement was made following an FCC decision to approve the acquisition by Paxson Communications of another television station in Pittsburgh. Both stations were involved in a complicated swap of broadcasting licenses. Paxson’s interest in the case got national attention because Senator John McCain came under fire for asking the FCC to rule in the case after the agency had been sitting on it for two years. It was alleged that McCain was doing a big favor for a big contributor, Paxson.

That was much ado about nothing. But in the course of bashing McCain, the media ignored the FCC ruling on religious broadcasting. This ruling, which was issued without a public hearing and came out of the same case, affects religious broadcasters who use educational licenses. But it also may effect religious programming carried on commercial television stations. The FCC will determine what programming can and cannot be defined as religious, and which of that may be considered to fall into the category of programming that serves the needs of the community. The FCC ruling could lead to restrictions on programs featuring church services, proselytizing or statements of personal religious beliefs. If a station violates the rules, it could lose its license.

This story was broken by the Internet news service, CNS It has been ignored by the major media, perhaps because the targets of the government action in this case are mostly conservative-oriented religious broadcasters. However, about a dozen members of Congress have written to FCC chairman William Kennard, demanding the withdrawal of the new rules. Their letter also went to Vice President Al Gore, who pushed for Kennard’s appointment.

Original article