Noncommercial religious channels carried by DirecTV Inc. can count toward a direct-broadcast satellite operator's obligation to set aside space for noncommercial and educational programming, the Federal Communications Commission said Tuesday.
Media Bureau Chief Ken Ferree dismissed a complaint brought by the Secular Coalition for America. The group had argued that setting aside space for religious programmers like the Catholic Network EWTN violates the constitutional ban on government endorsement of religion because the channels are publicly subsidized.
The FCC countered, however, that there is no direct public subsidy, and that permitting the channels to count toward the set-aside quota does not constitute a government bias in favor of religious programming. Also, DBS operators have been given great freedom to pick the channels that will meeting the set aside requirement.
DBS operators were required in 1998 to set aside 4% of their channel capacity for public interest programming.