Bending The FCC Rules: Seems Like Old Times

When it comes to the Federal Communications Commission, educating one's business sense is only one broken rule away.

To spurn the growth of satellite TV, the FCC told satellite providers to give 4 percent of their channel space to educational, advertising-free programmers. Now we've learned that many of those channels went to religious programmers who sell advertising as well as huge chunks of program time.

Now who's getting a lesson?

The rules were written in such a way that allowed many loopholes, say executives. Programmers who have these channels say, don't blame us--blame the FCC and satellite providers like DirecTV and Dish.

Educational institutions like the University of California and the L.A. Unified School District are on waiting lists--but the National Religious Broadcasters, a powerful lobbying group that represents such televangelists as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, gets a channel.

Lord help us.



DirecTV, for example, has awarded eight of its 14 public interest channels to religious broadcasters. DirecTV told the Los Angeles Times: "The reason we have more religious channels is that these groups are better organized, have a higher-quality product and are more efficient about getting in their applications."

Efficiency? How does one measure "educational" TV value against efficiency? No answer was given. And there is more. Public interest channels on satellite are somehow allowed to sell air time to other program suppliers for as much as $14,000.

That's called getting schooled.

And if you think such twisting of the rules hasn't happened before, think again. Back in 1970, the FCC created the prime-time access rule, giving early-evening, pre-prime-time slots to network-affiliated TV stations to program as they pleased. The intent was to give stations a chance to program individually, not with the same network prime-time mindset, and possibly find new and use independent programmers.

No, the prime-time access rule wasn't about giving viewers the educational programming. But it was about offering diversification.

What happened? All the Hollywood studios and major media companies, including CBS Corp., NBC Universal, and Walt Disney Co., now program those time periods. And they, of course, also own broadcast networks.

Bending the FCC rules for profit isn't new: it's TV, and that means business as usual.

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