WASHINGTON – Today is the last day for public comments on a proposed Federal Communications Commission rule change some say would threaten the licenses of Christian radio stations from coast to coast.
At issue is a proposal that would require every radio station to take programming advice from community advisory boards representative of the area’s population.
Advocates of Christian programming say that would require Christian broadcasters to seek advice from non-Christians and even those opposed to the Christian message. Some radio stations fear organized groups of atheists, for instance, could demand representation on the new FCC-mandated advisory boards that would factor into licensing decisions.
“While the FCC is considering these rule changes, at the moment nothing is ‘set in stone’ as they await public comment,” explains the Christian Air 1 Radio Network. “If any of these changes were adopted, there would be significant impact on our ability to minister to you and your community. These rules would not only affect our stations but also thousands of stations around the country.”
In addition to the requirement for advisory boards, the new regulations would also mandate radio stations produce every three months reports on how much programming of various types has been broadcast, who produced it and how it reflects the interests of the community – including segments who do not approve of or share Christian values.
The National Association of Broadcasters, which opposes the rule change, offers an online form for making comments on the FCC rule change – but the deadline is today. All comments must be filed under the assigned docket number No. 04-233, meaning that number must be included in all communications about the proposed rule change to be considered by the FCC.
The NAB is advising its member stations to tell the FCC why the rule change is counter-productive – that it would pressure broadcasters to air programming that is not necessarily commercially viable. The group also suggests the FCC rule change would mandate programming quotas.
Broadcasters don’t like another element of the rule change – one that would require stations to have at least one employee on duty during all hours of operation. Breakthroughs in automated programming have made that unnecessary in recent years, so the rule change would mean more expense for some smaller-market stations.
Last week, FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell questioned the need to turn back the clock with such a rule change. In a speech before the Quello Communications Law and Policy Symposium, McDowell cited the proliferation of competing communications opportunities on the Internet, through cable television channels and other venues.
Given the media choices available, he questioned why “policymakers like us at the FCC” are dusting off decades-old regulations to impose on broadcasters.
“Why are we considering placing these proverbial albatrosses around the necks of traditional media precisely at this ‘tipping point’ in history when they can least afford a regulatory disadvantage vis-à-vis unregulated platforms like the Internet?” he asked.
The potential Orwellian implications of such policies are chilling, the commissioner argued.