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NCC joins faith groups in urging media access, accountability
New York City, January 9, 2007—The National Council of Churches USA (NCC) joined with an array of faith groups including Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims in calling for more access to broadcast media outlets.
“I have a fear that someday soon we may see Paris Hilton asked to comment on moral issues,” said Kermit Netteberg from the Seventh Day Adventist Church and a member of the NCC Communication Commission. He was speaking to a forum of religious leaders and two members of the Federal Communications Commission in the Manhattan studios of WNET Public Television.
The interfaith gathering was sponsored by the communications committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the United Church of Christ (UCC), an NCC member communion.
Several speakers voiced frustration at getting out the message of the majority mainstream religious communities in the U.S. in the context of a broadcast industry now dominated by media conglomerates who own multiple stations in local markets across the nation, making program decisions on the basis of economic efficiency rather than community needs.
As a result, the speakers noted, the voice of mainstream faith is often excluded from the on-air agenda, or is displaced by more strident extremist views.
“We represent a vast number of people in this country and it is that voice that needs to be heard,” said the Most Rev. Gerald F. Kicanas, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson.
FCC Commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps shared their concerns of a “frenzy of media consolidation” and heard similar fears expressed from the leaders at the forum, including NCC President Michael Livingston.
“Media consolidation is a question of justice,” said the Rev. Robert Chase, UCC’s communications minister and current chair of the NCC Communication Commission, which includes the nation's major Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant faith groups.
He recounted the difficulties his denomination had placing paid TV ads that broadcasters judged as “too controversial.” He said the ads promoted welcoming and inclusion. “It’s time to return the airwaves to the people,” he said.
“There was a bargain struck that in exchange for the free use of the airwaves, they [broadcast stations] would serve the public interest,” said Commissioner Adelstein. “But today, half that bargain – the public interest obligation – is gone.”
“The voice of middle church, middle mosque and middle synagogue is not being heard,” said the Rev. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the NCC and author of Middle Church, Reclaiming the Moral Values of the Religious Majority from the Religious Right.
He said America is in a decade of “greed and arrogance” and if the issue of lack of access to the media is not addressed “we’re going to find more greed and arrogance on our public airwaves.”
“The Muslim community,” said Imam Izak-el Pasha of the Masjid Malcolm Shabazz, located in New York's Harlem neighborhood, “has virtually no access to present the clear picture of the billion people on this planet who are faithfully and peacefully practicing their faith.”
“I am a worried citizen,” said Commissioner Copps. “I am concerned that this nation’s media so seldom reflect and so seldom appeal to the better angels of our nature,” he said.
Copps quoted a report claiming that last year TV treated religious topics only half as much as the previous year and 96 percent of those treatments were negative.
There was near unanimous agreement that members of congregations and faith communities need to mobilize to press for better access to the broadcast media. In 2003 the FCC received more than three million messages from concerned citizens over plans to ease station ownership restrictions.
Both commissioners urged faith leaders to inform and educate their members about the negative effects of media consolidation. Both agreed that contacting the FCC and their elected representatives in Congress was the best way to return a semblance of responsibility to those who use the public’s property at great profit with little public service provided in return.
“I wish I could get some of the media in my classroom,” said the Rev. Dr. Jacqueline J. Lewis, a Reformed Church in America pastor. “I wish I could get them to be self-conscious about the lens through which they see and portray faith communities and to imagine how many identities they shape,” said the senior minister at New York’s Middle Collegiate Church, “to imagine the power they have to form and reform the hearts and minds of young people and old.”
In addition to Netteburg and Chase, other members of the NCC Communication Commission who participated in the forum included Nikki Stephanopoulos of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, Kristi Bangert and Ava Martin of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Canon Robert Williams of the Episcopal Church USA, David Lucs of the Orthodox Church in America, and Commission Director Wesley "Pat" Pattillo.
NCC News contact: The Rev. Dan Webster, 212.870.2252, NCCnews@ncccusa.org.
Photos courtesy of WNET-Channel 13
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