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Religious broadcasters and station owners are worried about new
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules
which,
they say, seek to diminish Christian-based television programs that
promote a specific faith because they are not generally “educational.”
Worse, the decision may force many of the 125 religious stations around
the country to drop all faith-based programming.

In its decision to grant a transfer of licenses between Pittsburgh TV
stations Cornerstone TeleVision, WQED – a PBS
affiliate and member of the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) — and Paxson Communications, the FCC singled out religious stations by
establishing new, stringent standards for the “educational” programming
that non-commercial educational TV stations must air to remain qualified
to hold their licenses.

According to an assessment of the decision released by the NRB, the
FCC stated in its written opinion, “Not all programming, including
programming about religious matters, qualifies as ‘general educational’
programming.

“For example, programming primarily devoted to religious exhortation,
proselytizing, or statements of personally-held religious views and
beliefs generally would not qualify as ‘general educational’
programming,” the FCC said.

“Thus, church services generally will not qualify as ‘general
education’ programming under our rules,” the agency concluded.

“The FCC apparently seeks to draw a line between programs that teach
about religion — which the agency deems acceptable as the kind of
educational fare that [public] stations must air — and programs devoted
to religious ‘exhortation’ or statements of personal religious belief –
which do not satisfy the new programming standard,” said NRB president
Brandt Gustavson.

“The line-drawing that the new standards require is likely to be a
difficult, if not impossible, exercise,” he said in a written reply to
the new FCC opinion. “The Order contains a disquieting implication that
the government may restrict certain strains of religious speech –
disfavoring more passionate and emotional expressions of faith — while
not constraining others that are more ‘intellectual’ and drained of
human emotion.”

David Fiske, a spokesman for the FCC, told WorldNetDaily that
“essentially there is nothing new in this order.”

“This opinion talks about discretion given to broadcasters,” he said,
“but it also talks about the requirement that these stations must be
primarily serving an educational, structural and cultural purpose.”

He could not say why FCC commissioners felt compelled to provide
“additional guidance” regarding religious programming on public band
television channels, but said, “The order speaks for itself.”

In Paragraph 44 of the order, commissioners said the FCC would not
“disqualify any program simply because the subject matter of the
teaching or instruction is religious in nature.” However, the
commissioners added, “We reiterate that the reserved television channels
are intended ‘to serve the educational and cultural broadcast needs of
the entire community to which they are assigned,’ and to be ‘responsive
to the overall public as opposed to the sway of particular political,
economic, social or religious interests.’”

In a 3-2 decision, commissioners Harold Furchtgott-Roth and Michael
Powell issued a joint statement of dissention on the ruling, saying the
decision brings the agency closer to “unacceptable content regulation.”

“The example of church services used in this order illustrates the
point,” Powell and Furchtgott-Roth said. “The order indicates that
church services generally would not qualify as ‘general educational’
programming. We ask however, why such programming might not qualify as
‘cultural’ programming just as a presentation of an opera might?”

“The procedural aspects of this case pose another set of problems,”
said Karl Stoll, director of communications for the NRB. “The FCC generally
does not issue a “rule of general applicability” in a license
application proceeding, but by doing so here, the agency has avoided
opening the matter to broad comment by interested members of the public
– including other religious broadcasters.

“NRB considers this a matter of high priority and is now considering
various legal options,” he added. Stoll did not say what actions the
group would pursue.

Robert Rule of Wyoming-based Rule Communications — owner of four
religious television stations — said he is worried about the
implications of the new FCC opinion.

“Basically, when it comes to religious programming, the FCC wants to
see more programming about “religion” in general — how religion impacted
the Dark Ages, the religious practices of the South Pacific Islands, for
example, and less programming which promotes a specific religious
belief,” he told WorldNetDaily. “I assume basic, plain-vanilla
Bible-based Christianity is what they have in mind to minimize.”

“Apparently, the FCC is saying that programs about religions are
good, but programs promoting specific religious beliefs are bad,” he added.
Rule Communications owns secular and low-power stations in Wyoming.

Rule told WorldNetDaily if the FCC forces him to, “I will remove my
religious programming because I am required to live by the law of the
land. But I will make a giant fuss if they do.”

However, he added, “the FCC ruling applies only to full-power,
non-commercial, educational, TV stations on a ‘reserved’ educational
channel, the rule does not apply to any of my operations.” He predicted
“hundreds, if not thousands of religious broadcasters will be outraged
over this.”

Rule also believes the decision is arbitrary and confusing. “Although
it appears to me that the FCC is saying that a religious program on the
impact of the Roman church on Europe during the Dark Ages is ‘good’, it
also appears to me that the FCC is saying that a religious program which

informs viewers that Jesus Christ taught that the only way to enter the
Kingdom of God is through Him is ‘bad.’

“This seems extremely dangerous to me to have the federal government
telling religious broadcasters what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’
programming,” he said.

In a separate press release, the NRB also said it is “actively
consulting with its Washington counsel (Wiley, Rein & Fielding) and with

Cornerstone about the best method for addressing this disturbing
development in the Commission’s … policies.”

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