The Washington-based Christian Coalition has set its lobbying agenda for 2006, and multicasting will be a major focus.
Appearing No. 1 on the list, though that ordering was not billed as a priority ranking, is "Multicast/Must-carry" Legislation." (Also on the list is passage of a bill boosting FCC indecency enforcement.)
The conservative lobby, which says it represents over 2 million "people of faith," has been pushing hard for the mandatory carriage, including putting out an action alert to members last fall. It argues that, without a government mandate that cable carry broadcasters' multiple digital channels, religious TV stations without the leverage to gain carriage will be squeezed out.
"In today's society, religious broadcasters are a ray of hope in the often dismal world of indecent, violent and sexually explicit programming," the group says.
Religious broadcasters, including the National Religious Broadcasters association, have invoked indecency in arguing for multicast must-carry. In a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert in September, NRB President Frank Wright said that, without it "we will continue to see what some members of the FCC have called 'the headlong race to the bottom' in television programming."
But not everyone in the religious TV community sees the issue in those terms. In fact, carriage issues have divided the broadcast and cable flock along the lines of self-preservation.
Religious cable channel operator The Inspiration Network, for example, is also a member of NRB, but has split with the association's primary broadcaster members over multicasting.
John Roos, senior VP, marketing, for The Inspiration Networks, told B&C in an e-mail that the multicasting issue is not one of content or decency, but of control.
Inspiration has lobbied Congress against multicast must-carry, saying that, "If broadcasters are given a government guarantee of carriage of all of their signals, it will be very difficult to expand the number of homes that receive INSP and our other networks.”
Indecency foes are also split over the issue of a la carte cable, with the Parents Television Council pushing for unbundling cable services, while religious broadcasters, including Pat Robertson (CBN), Paul Crouch (Trinity) and Jerry Fallwell (Old Time Gospel Hour), argue that per-channel pricing would have "a devastating effect on the inspirational programming we currently provide."