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What you can do to help the UCC take on CBS and NBC as it presses the FCC for a hearing

I wanted to post some action items as a result of the United Church of Christ’s announcement that it is filing a petition to deny license renewals to two Miami-area television stations: Viacom’s WFOR-TV and GE-owned WJVT-TV (these are owned, not affiliates). CBS and NBC national rejected the church’s “God is Still Speaking” commercial. [I’ve noted before that local stations here in NC were used a target market for the ad, and there was no outcry, in fact several gay friends of mine specifically mentioned this ad renewing their faith and exploring the UCC.]

The press release is here.

The web site with details on the action is here; this site was put up by the UCC Office of Communications,a wholly separate functional and financial entity from the church itself.

The actual petition (in PDF) is here.

The reason the UCC is making this move is that these stations use the airwaves, which are public, not private. The must renew their licenses every eight years. Florida’s stations are up during this time period, and so this is why the UCC is targeting them with a licensing challenge. This type of action, in fact, is sanctioned by the FCC itself as the appropriate forum for addressing complaints about the use of the airwaves in a discriminatory or inappropriate way that compromises the concept of free and open debate or stifles it altogether.

The briefing also mentions the concept of the “Fairness Doctrine,” which bound networks to present both sides of a given issue equally. This came about due to a 1973 Supreme Court ruling (“CBS v. Democratic National Committee”). This was true up until 1987, when FCC deregulation resulted in the demise of the fairness doctrine. The networks no longer have to play fair, and thus the only recourse now for an aggrieved party like the UCC is to make its case during the license renewal process. Parties can submit “informal objections” from the public along with their documentation, in this case “raising substantial and material question as to whether the broadcast company has been operating in the public interest.” Since the networks own these two stations they can be held accountable for all that they own as a result of this filing and force a public hearing.

The UCC was and is serious about the original campaign that included this ad; according to Bob Chase, the Executive Director of the Office of Communications for the UCC, it is a four-year, $30 million outreach to promote “extravagant welcome.” The original reason for wanting to run its ads on networks, he says, is to reach those that are not easily reached — the poor, most without cable — who use free TV as a primary information source. CBS and NBC prevented UCC from doing so, with their convoluted thinking and explanations for turning down the ad.

Chase also wanted to make sure folks out there understood that the UCC views this as a “gift” that they intend to be good stewards of — these are everyone’s airwaves and it is more than an issue over tolerance for gays, or attendance at its churches. Incidentally, as a result of the controversy, the UCC web site has had over 70,000 hits to its “find a church” link. Clearly, the intended message is getting through.

OK. What can you do?

The UCC’s web site for the action,, has an online form where you can file an “informal objection” to the FCC in support of the UCC. This will be part of the documentation considered for the renewal of the license. Please do this by January 2, 2005; petitions sent up until that date will be most effective, but the UCC says they can be submitted up until mid-Feb. Take no chances, do it now.

Here is the form.

You can also donate to the advocacy campaign. As I noted above, the Office of Communications is handling this action, and it is a separate entity from the church itself.

So, that’s my info rant on this…please take action; I’m damn tired of the American Taliban trying to take control of my country, spewing intolerance and doing all it can to suppress ideas and dissent.

If you have a blog, continue to spread the word; the UCC appreciates all of you in the blogosphere that have generated buzz about this!

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding