Congress should help ensure availability of family programming

In our current political climate, diversity is a buzz word that is most often used to justify the promotion of liberal viewpoints in our mainstream culture, usually at the expense of the views of the majority. If such importance is to be placed on diversity however, it must be recognized that true diversity also includes the views and preferences of those in the mainstream, such as a conservative voice that promotes pro-family values and Christian beliefs.

When it comes to our nation’s television programming, local religious broadcasters are the backbone of faith-based media outreach in America and work tirelessly to promote pro-family messages that are direct reflections of their communities. They provide a haven for many who are in-need, suffering or simply seeking a positive, comfortable television environment.

Unless Christian conservatives act however, the level of religious programming made available on America’s local cable systems could well diminish in coming years. This is due to the fact that all local broadcasters rely on what are known as “must carry” regulations that require cable companies to carry their local broadcast signal. With the advent of digital television however, that requirement will no longer exist unless Congress takes action.

This means that the balance between cable and broadcast stations on a family’s cable system will be disrupted. Digital technology will give cable programmers and broadcasters the ability to “multicast”—air multiple programming streams within their government allocated spectrum—in digital television. While multicasting will afford broadcasters the opportunity to provide more free-over-the-air programming, cable operators are refusing to carry these additional channels in favor of those which they have a financial interest in, or those that are affiliated with major networks.

This phenomenon is extremely distributing because religious broadcasters were hardest hit when Congress and the FCC instituted an unfunded mandate that required broadcasters to spend substantial funds to build new digital stations while simultaneously maintaining their old analog operations. The digital transition mandate was thrust upon religious broadcasters without a roadmap for recovering their investments and now they are being left out in the cold by Congress.

Families will be left out in the cold as well, in that the overall amount of wholesome, religious and family oriented broadcasting made available to them on cable will diminish, resulting in an even greater percentage of programming being dedicated to indecent, violent or sexually explicit material.

In order that the voice of religious broadcasters not be diminished, it is imperative that Congress add a “multicast must-carry” provision to our digital television laws and regulations. Such a provision will require that local cable systems must carry the programming of all local broadcasters – whether secular or religious.

We strongly believe that without “multicast must-carry” the conservative, faith and family broadcasters will be at a disadvantage. The major media networks do not need this provision to get their programming carried on local cable systems. However, the cable companies do not readily carry the Christian networks and this provision would force cable companies to treat secular and faith oriented broadcasters equally.

The bottom line is that, unless Congress acts, the overall level of family friendly programming that will be available on America’s cable television systems will diminish drastically.

Yet, there is hope and the remedy is simple. Congress can pass a “multicast must-carry” amendment to our nation’s digital television laws, which would ensure that religious and family oriented broadcasters can survive in the digital television environment. In other words, it will help maintain diversity.

It is my hope that others in Congress will join leaders like Senators Lindsey Graham and Kay Bailey-Hutchison and Congressman Paul Gillmor to recognize the contributions that religious broadcasters make to our great nation and help preserve their family friendly voice on our country’s cable television systems. America’s families deserve no less.

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Roberta Combs is President of the Christian Coalition of America and has been active in conservative politics for over twenty-five years. She has represented the Coalition on numerous television news programs and has been quoted in major national newspapers, magazines and international publications.

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