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Church communicators support petition with FCC over ad

 


Church communicators support petition with FCC over ad

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The Rev. Larry Hollon
Dec. 15, 2004

CLEVELAND (UMNS) – The United Church of Christ is asking the Federal Communications Commission to deny license renewals for two network-owned television stations in Miami, as a result of CBS and NBC refusing to air the denomination’s commercial.

The church is challenging the renewal of licenses for WFOR-TV (CBS) and WJVT-TV (NBC) because "there is substantial and material question" as to whether the stations’ parent companies, Viacom Inc. and the General Electric Co., have operated the stations in the public interest.

NBC and CBS have refused to run the commercial because the all-inclusive message "implies acceptance of gay and lesbian couples," according to the United Church of Christ. The petitions to the FCC were filed Dec. 9.

A spokesperson for CBS said the United Church of Christ never approached WFOR-TV about running the ad. A United Methodist News Service query to NBC had not been answered by press time.

The United Church of Christ is following FCC guidelines that local license challenges are the best vehicle for the viewing public to hold network broadcasters accountable for proper or improper stewardship of the airwaves, church officials said.

Licenses come up for renewal once every eight years, and in the current cycle, only stations in Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are under review.

The United Church of Christ ad states that — "like Jesus" — the United Church of Christ seeks to welcome all people, regardless of ability, age, race, economic circumstance or sexual orientation. The ad has been accepted and will air on a number of networks, including ABC Family, AMC, BET, CNN, Discovery, Fox, Hallmark, History, Nick at Nite, TBS, TNT, Travel and TV Land.

"Broadcasters are granted licenses to use the airwaves, which are considered to be owned by the public," said the Rev. Larry Hollon, top executive with United Methodist Communications, the denomination’s communication agency. "As a result, it has been required that broadcasters serve the public interest. Today this principle is almost completely forgotten."

The Communication Commission of the National Council of Churches USA called the networks actions "arbitrary" and contrary to the principles of freedom of speech and equal access to media. The NCC commission published a list of religious communicators in support of the United Church of Christ.

"Whether or not this spot is controversial is not for CBS and NBC to decide," said the Rev. Daniel R. Gangler, director of communication for the United Methodist Church’s Indiana Area and a signer of the statement supporting the ad. Nor is it for the networks to decide, "if the spot fits FCC rulings, as to whether or not these announcements are fit for airing on the public airwaves," he said.

"The UCC is expressing its opinion of openness in an inviting way and paying to do so," Gangler said. "Two major networks curbing paid church advertising sends a disturbing message to the religious communities of this country."

The Rev. John H. Thomas, United Church of Christ’s general minister and president, said, "The religious, ethical and moral rights of members of the UCC churches and other citizens to have access to diverse programming has been harmed by the refusal of NBC and CBS to carry the ad, as well as by their failure to carry programming reflecting the full range of religious expression in the United States on their networks and on their owned and operated stations."

"The UCC message is about inclusion, which should not be a matter of controversy today," Hollon said. "To say the church is open to everyone is a fundamental principle of Christian teaching. The church cannot say less than this and be the church. God loves every one of God’s creatures. If that is too controversial for broadcasters, then it’s as if the Gospel is too prophetic for us to hear."

Hollon added that in today’s media-saturated society, "if you are not on the screen, it’s as if you don’t exist."

"In this case it is the voice of the church that is being denied a hearing," he said. "This demonstrates why the church must stand with those who are without voice. If not, we risk losing our own voice in the public media as well."

United Methodist News Service is a unit of United Methodist Communications, based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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