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1999 NCC News Archives

Statement of the Rev. Dr. Joan Campbell
General Secretary, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.
to William E. Kennard, Chairman, Federal Communications Commission
Regarding Low-Power Radio

(Statement delivered May 13, 1999, in Washington, D.C., during a roundtable discussion on low power radio.  See NCC News Alert about the roundtable.)

Mr. Chairman, we are delighted and grateful that you have responded favorably to the invitation of the National Council of Churches and the other Catholic and Protestant bodies gathered here to discuss low powered radio with us. Rev. Randy Naylor will introduce my colleagues shortly. I think it is fair to say that our membership loosely encompasses the vast majority of America’s practicing Christians.

Of course, we did not invite you to meet with us to try to persuade you to support low powered radio. That would be preaching to the converted. We asked for a face-to-face meeting, so we could assure you that the religious community--which is not without influence--wants to see the FCC authorize low powered radio stations and license them as widely as possible in communities throughout the United States. We have come to offer our support to you and the other FCC Commissioners to bring that about.

We hope and we urge that the new low powered stations will be licensed to non-commercial broadcasters who will both represent and cater to local community needs and interests. Schools and community colleges; libraries; medical and other agencies that serve homebound people; child care and senior citizen centers; civic and civil rights groups; churches come to mind. Our citizens have the right to exchange ideas and wrestle with local problems through the media. There is a crying need for people to be able to get accurate, unbiased news and information about their localities, down to the smallest neighborhood units. We know that our churches have this need, especially those with minority membership. Indeed, we believe there should be priority treatment of minorities. In many communities minorities will be found to have no voice at all on the commercial radio stations, and certainly no ownership of radio facilities.

Mr. Chairman, in justification of the policies we advocate for low power radio, I cannot help but remind you that Congress and predecessor Commission majorities have virtually abandoned radio ownership restrictions and consequent attention to public interests, needs and necessities. In our view, the present concentration of control of radio stations in a handful of powerful corporations is a threat to our democratic institutions. For commercial purposes, audiences are deliberately segmented by age, sex, race, and ethnic origin--even by political bias.

Scores, or even hundreds, of stations owned by a single corporation are managed from a distant city, with satellite delivered programming and national advertising. Many such stations ignore information and news stories that are important to our members and the people we serve. Many churches have programming material that they cannot place on currently available radio outlets, and I am sure other local public groups suffer from the same neglect.

One piece of evidence, already in the Commission’s hands, underscores my argument. In a filing in your current rulemaking inquiry on Equal Employment Opportunity, a group of commercial radio station managers made individual statements opposing the proposed rule. They argue that diversity in the work force is undesirable, since it cannot bring about diversity in programming, because so few of their programs originate locally. They report that local origination of programs ranges from a low of one percent to six percent, nine percent, ten percent, and for one station, 15% - 20%.

This neglect of their communities of license is not just a matter of economic justice. It is a lesson we need to learn about democratic self-governance. As you may have heard, I was a member of the delegation that traveled to Yugoslavia and succeeded in freeing our soldier prisoners. There, I was reminded of the heroic men and women who operated small scale broadcasting stations in Eastern Europe against first the Nazi, then the Communist dictators, keeping democracy alive in the minds of the people. Democracy depends on many informed citizens. We have groups among us who have been disenfranchised, or never were "enfranchised" by the electronic media. By creating a community-based microradio service, we can--and we should--set an example for the rest of the world.

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