FCC Gives Its Blessing To Noncommercial Programming On Cable And Satellite
The SCA argued that cable and satellite companies were violating the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution by allowing public interest channels to be used for "proselytizing, commercial activity, and fundraising." Specifically, the group argued that reserving space for noncommercial religious channels like the Catholic Network EWTN violates the First Amendment prohibition on government support of religion because the channels are publicly subsidized. But in the FCC's view, because there is no direct public money supporting those broadcasts, there is no violation. The ruling was made by W. Ken Ferree, the head of the FCC's Media Bureau.
Furthermore, the FCC stated that federal law requires that satellite broadcasters reserve 4 percent of their channel capacity for noncommercial broadcasters who air "educational or informational" programming, and that religious programming could fall under those rubrics, an FCC spokeswoman said.
"In creating the [4 percent noncommercial set-aside] in 1998, the FCC stated that the channels were intended for innovative, non-commercial programming such as distance learning, foreign language broadcasting, arts and culture programming, and other creative broadcasting," a spokesman for the SCA said. "Instead, satellite broadcasters have made a practice of turning the channel capacity over to fundamentalist religious ministries, who use it for strictly religious programming and fundraising."
On April 9, the SCA formally requested that DirecTV comply with federal regulations by disclosing its policies and practices for granting access to public interest channels. It asked DirecTV to provide a complete listing of "entities that have requested (channel) capacity, disposition of those requests, and reasons for the disposition..." as required by FCC regulations.
DirecTV responded to the information request by acknowledging it had denied applications from several secular programmers. The company cited "capacity full" for each refusal, and stated that the religious programming met FCC requirements.