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The Federal Communications Commission has reversed a controversial
earlier ruling
which critics — including two FCC commissioners, and Christians
throughout the United States — said moved the federal agency closer than
ever to regulating broadcasting content, particularly religious content.

In a 4-1 decision Friday, the commissioners voted to rescind an
unprecedented collection of “additional guidelines” provided to a religious
broadcaster who had applied for, and received, an application to take over a
public broadcasting station in Pittsburgh.

In its Jan. 6 decision to grant a transfer of licenses between Pittsburgh
TV stations Cornerstone Television WQED — a PBS affiliate and member of the
National Religious Broadcasters — 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.

The “additional guidelines” the agency included in the order stated for
the first time that “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.

However, following media coverage of the FCC’s ruling, including a series
of in-depth WorldNetDaily news reports
and commentaries,
an explosive national protest ensued with broadcasters and congressmen
bringing pressure to bear on the FCC, resulting in the agency’s decision to
remove the “additional guidelines” language while keeping the original grant
of licenses intact.

“On January 28, 2000, the Commission issued an Order vacating the
‘Additional Guidance’ on this issue that was contained within the Order on
the Cornerstone decision,” said a press release sent to WorldNetDaily by the
FCC.

“The Commission said that widespread public confusion over the meaning
and effect of the ‘Additional Guidance’ language, instead of helping parties
understand this complex definitional issue of what constitutes educational
programming, was instead causing considerable misunderstanding,” said the
order. “It said that it would continue to defer to broadcaster programming
judgments, and handle any factual disputes about educational programming on
a case-by-case basis as it has done for the past 48 years since allocating
the NCE (non-commercial education) channels.”

Rep. Michael Oxley, R-Ohio, who had proposed a bill to repeal the FCC’s
action, said he was “thrilled” by the reversal, commenting that “Religious
broadcasters and their listeners were a target for an FCC that sought to
limit their freedom to express religious faith.”

The Order was voted 4-1, with Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth issuing
a concurring statement. However Commissioner Gloria Tristani, the lone
dissenter, issued a separate statement accusing the FCC of caving in to “an
organized campaign of distortion and demagoguery.” She took particular
offense at critics who suggested that the commission had an anti-religious
bias.

“I reject and resent this type of attack, reminiscent of a witch hunt,”
Tristani wrote in her dissenting opinion.

In a statement of his own issued with the current vacating order, FCC
Commissioner Michael K. Powell, who dissented to the original order with
Furchtgott-Roth, said he agreed with the new decision.

“As I predicted in my dissenting statement opposing this ‘additional
guidance’ in the original Order, it has opened a Pandora’s Box of problems,”
Powell said. “In today’s decision, we put the lid back on the box.”

Powell added, “I continue to believe that when treading this close to
content regulation, the traditional deference the Commission has given to
broadcasters in these matters is the most appropriate regulatory course.”

Previous WND stories:

FCC targets religious TV

FCC defends religious broadcasting decision

See Joseph Farah’s exclusive commentary:

Decommission the FCC

FCC threats and urban legends

See Rev. Jerry Falwell’s exclusive commentary:

FCC: Faith void where prohibited

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