Religious Stations Miffed Over Must-Carry Move


Religious TV stations are "frustrated" with the turn of events on digital multicast must-carry.

In the wake of the FCC's pulling of a vote on digital multicast must-carry off the agenda for this week's open meeting, Religious Voices in Broadcasting wrote a letter to White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove pointing out that the issue of requiring cable systems to carry all of a TV stations' digital multicast channels is "the single most important legislative issue affecting full-power small, independent and religious broadcasters."

The broadcasters say they have gotten no help from Congress or the White House. "[W]e are disheartened by the lack of support or outright opposition we have experienced with the Administration and congressional leadership...without extending our group the courtesy of a meeting as evidenced by several declinations by you and the White House."

The group praises them for taking an interest in indecency, but suggests that must-carry may have gotten short shrift. In fact, they say that indecency will increase without must-carry, saying: "If our stations do not survive the digital television transition, there will be little alternative to the commercially driven, and often violent, profane, and indecent programming that has inundated our television airwaves."

Republican House leaders Joe Barton (R-Tex.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.) wrote FCC Chairman Kevin Martin last week telling him not to bring up the must-carry item and saying the FCC had gotten it right in two previous decisions ruling that must-carry meant a single digital channel, not multiple ones.Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) is not opposed to digital multicast must-carry, but thinks Congress will ultimately have to make the call in legislation, rather than leave it an FCC interpretation.

Religious TV stations and religious cable networks are split on the issue, with cable arguing that multichannel must-carry could push some of their religious cable services off crowded cable lineups, while TV stations are worried that without a government mandate, their stations could suffer the same fate.

Pointing to the PBS carriage deals with cable, the religious broadcasters, which included 16 stations/network signatories and says it represents over 150 stations, suggested they might have to "sell their noncommercial frequencies to PBS" after the digital transition if PBS maintains such a carriage advantage.