Church Group: FCC Botched God Decision

The United Church of Christ says the FCC's Media Bureau got it all wrong when it denied the church's license challenge to two TV stations for silencing the voice of God, or at least TV ads promoting that voice. UCC says that if the decision stands, it could affect the FCC's oversight of children's TV, “news staging” and payola.

The church, whose Office of Communication has frequently challenged TV licenses for a variety of reasons, did so in 2004 after CBS and NBC declined to air UCC's “God is still speaking” ads on religious tolerance.

As described by the FCC in its decision denying the challenge, “The spots depicted would-be worshippers approaching a church guarded by bouncers who refuse entrance to what appears to be a gay couple, a Hispanic young man, a man in a wheelchair and an African-American woman, followed by the tag, 'Jesus didn't turn people away…Neither do we.'” The spot then concludes with the statement: “No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you're welcome here.”

The ads were turned away because of the networks' long-standing policies against airing paid editorial ads. But the networks made the argument, cited by the media bureau, that the individual stations had the freedom to air the ads as a local buy. UCC did not attempt to buy local time, saying spot buys are cost-prohibitive.

As promised, the UCC last week filed a formal appeal to the full commission.

UCC had challenged the licences of NBC Universal's WTVJ-TV and CBS' WFOR-TV, both Miami, on the grounds that denying the ads was not operating the stations in the public interest, but the FCC's Media Bureau said that since the decision was made by the network, not a local station, UCC did not have a case.

In its petition for full review filed last week, UCC argued that the Media Bureau had come up with a novel reading of communications law to conclude that a station wasn't liable for the network decisions of its parent and that concluding that was a stretch that went beyond its authority.