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Public Policy Priorities

NRB's Government Relations office consistently concentrates its political engagement on issues affecting electronic communications and on questions of free speech and the free exercise of religion.

Among NRB's legislative and regulatory priorities are:


•Broadcast Indecency Standards

Position
NRB supports the application of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s broadcast indecency regulations. NRB believes that parents and children have the right to not be faced with indecent programming, whether fleeting or intentional.

Summary
The FCC has standards on broadcast indecency during those hours when children will be most likely listening or watching broadcast programming (6:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.). NRB filed Amicus Curiae ("friend of the court") briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court in both of the FCC v. FOX cases, urging the Court to affirm the actions of the FCC in enforcing indecency standards. The Court ruled in June 2012 that the offending networks in these specific cases had not received proper notice of the FCC rules and thus could not be penalized.  However, the Court was careful not to weaken the FCC’s role as an enforcer of decency on the airwaves.

NRB continues to strongly support the application of indecency regulations. In response to an FCC inquiry about whether or not the agency should only pursue "egregious" cases of indecency on the airwaves, NRB firmly answered, "No!" In publicly filed comments, the association specified a proposal that would retain enforcement against all instances of indecency, while suggesting two narrow, very limited exceptions ("live news" and "serious value" exceptions for fleeting indecency) to help fend off First Amendment challenges that have been raised in federal courts.

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•Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)

Position
NRB opposes ENDA.

Summary
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (H.R.1755/S.815) would create new employment rights for individuals based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. NRB's opposition to ENDA particularly focuses on its lack of an effective exemption for religious employers. The Senate bill, sponsored by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Mark Kirk (R-IL), was approved by the Senate in November 2013. NRB expressed dismay with the Senate's 64-32 vote in favor of ENDA without resolving its First Amendment problems and urged Members of the House of Representatives to stand firm against it.  In the House, ENDA is sponsored by Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and has 196 Representatives signed on in support. While House Leadership is against the bill's advancement in that chamber, pro-ENDA groups continue their aggressive push to sway votes.  NRB has testified numerous times before Congress on this issue, most recently in 2012 before the Senate HELP Committee. 

 

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•Federal Election Communications Protections

Position
NRB opposes the DISCLOSE Act and similar proposals.

Summary
The Disclosure of Information on Spending on Campaigns Leads to Open and Secure Elections (DISCLOSE) Act (H.R.148) would amend the Federal Elections Campaign (FEC) Act of 1971 to establish new public reporting requirements for those organizations spending $10,000 or more during an election cycle, including the release of the names and addresses of donors giving $10,000 or more to the group. NRB opposes this bill, as many organizations rely on donations in order to continue supporting family values, and there is concern that public disclosure of members and donors of organizations that support “controversial” viewpoints or candidates might subject them to threats, harassment, and reprisals. If top donors fear reprisal from making a public disclosure statement for the organization, that organization will be unable to broadcast an independent expenditure or electioneering communication to support or oppose an issue or candidate for federal office. Similarly, NRB opposes an FCC order to require mandatory Internet disclosure by television stations of "political files" and information related to issue-advocacy organizations.

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•Fairness Doctrine

Position
NRB opposes the Fairness Doctrine.

Summary
The Fairness Doctrine, first introduced in 1949, enabled the FCC to compel broadcasters to air opposing viewpoints on controversial issues deemed to be of public importance. The Fairness Doctrine was abandoned by the FCC in 1987. NRB supported the efforts of House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) to urge former FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to finally and completely eliminate the text of the Fairness Doctrine from the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). The FCC formally took this step in August 2011.  NRB thanked the FCC Leadership and encouraged vigilance that the spirit of the Fairness Doctrine not creep into other rules or proceedings. We are particularly concerned about the creation of mandatory local advisory boards under the guise of “Localism”, which would be detrimental to religious broadcasters. Members of such a board could give advice with the understanding that if their perspective went unheeded, they would have the authority to recommend that the FCC not renew a station's license. NRB strongly opposes any federal regulation that would impact the variety, quantity, or nature of the viewpoints or content that is aired over the broadcast media.

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•Fundraising for Charities

Position
NRB supports the advancement of an FCC order to allow noncommercial educational (NCE) broadcast stations to use up to one percent of their air-time to fundraise for the benefit of third-party non-profit organizations. NRB also supports the current income tax deduction for charitable giving in the federal tax code.

Summary
In 2012, the FCC formally began consideration of an NRB proposal that noncommercial educational (NCE) broadcast stations be allowed to use up to one percent of their air-time to fundraise for the benefit of third-party non-profit organizations. Through public and private conversations at the FCC, NRB has long advocated for this regulatory change that would allow NCE Christian radio and TV stations to provide fundraising support for charitable ministries in their local communities and abroad. Notably, NRB filed public comments in July 2012 in support of this “win-win-win” proposal: “This rule change would represent a win-win-win scenario. NCE stations would be able to promote worthy causes and receive some reasonable compensation; non-profit groups could be supported so they can better provide community, humanitarian, and social services – all without government funding; and the public could be better educated and energized to participate in helping to solve significant human problems and relieve human suffering.” On a related note, NRB is monitoring discussions on Capitol Hill about charitable contribution deductions in the tax code, which is an invaluable policy for many Christian non-profit organizations.

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•International Religious Freedom

Position
NRB supports religious freedom domestically and abroad. NRB supports the Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act (H.R. 301/S.653), legislation specifically promoting religious freedom in the Near East and South Central Asia.

Summary
Noting persistent and widespread international persecution of Christians around the world, the NRB Board of Directors approved a 2011 Resolution calling on the President "to make a bold public statement against the international persecution of Christians, and to further enforce that position through his choice of Executive Branch appointments and through his foreign policy decisions." Stemming from that, NRB sent letters of support for a bill promoting religious freedom in the Near East and South Central Asia to President Barack Obama and Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA), the bill sponsor. The House passed this legislation (H.R. 301) in September 2013. A companion bill (S. 653) introduced by Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO), Carl Levin (D-MI), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) awaits action in the Senate.

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•Internet Freedom

Position
NRB supports religious freedom on the Internet and opposes "net neutrality."

Summary
The debate over whether and how to regulate various forms of Internet traffic continues in earnest. In December 2010, the FCC voted 3-2 (on partisan lines) to pass net neutrality regulations that allow the federal government to regulate the Internet for the first time in history. Efforts for and against net neutrality continue in Washington. NRB wants Christian content to be accessible on the Internet unfettered by any government or corporate religious discrimination. NRB issued public comments wary of the current "Open Internet" plan set forth by the FCC as excessive in its regulatory reach and under-inclusive in ignoring free speech concerns. In addition, as companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook have become giants in the online world, NRB proactively launched the John Milton Project for Free Speech to evaluate the risk of religious viewpoint censorship due to the practices and policies of new media platforms and to present potential solutions.

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•Must Carry Rights

Position
NRB supports Must-Carry rights for Christian TV broadcasters. 

Summary
“Must-Carry” law enables many local television broadcast stations, including religious stations, to be viewed on pay-TV platforms. Today’s Must-Carry rights were enacted by Congress in 1992 under the Cable Act and upheld by the Supreme Court in 1997. NRB has repeatedly affirmed the vital importance of Must-Carry law for religious TV broadcasters, who provide valuable service to American TV consumers. Sadly, legislation has been proposed (The Next Generation Television Marketplace Act - H.R.3720) that would eliminate Must-Carry rules for local commercial television broadcast stations to be viewed on pay-TV platforms. This legislation could be fatal to many Christian TV stations and may harm the ability of millions of Americans to continue accessing the religious programming on which they rely. NRB has also opposed a FCC order to terminate the “Viewability Rule,” which had ensured that all cable subscribers, including those with analog equipment, were able to view free, local Must-Carry broadcast signals.

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•Performance Tax

Position
NRB opposes a performance tax on broadcasters and supports a Concurrent Resolution "Supporting the Local Radio Freedom Act" (H.Con.Res.16/S.Con.Res.6) that upholds that long-held position by Congress.

Summary

The Free Market Royalty Act (H.R.3219) would pave the way for a "performance fee" to be attached to every piece of music played on a terrestrial radio station. NRB opposes this bill and other similar legislation that would impose a radio performance tax in any form.

Musicians receive free airplay by radio, boosting recognition and sales of their work.  However, advertisers, sponsors, program syndicators pay for placement on radio because of the substantive benefits they receive from over-the-air (OTA) carriage.  The demonstrable value of radio air-time is ignored by many advocates of a new OTA performance tax. Moreover, Congressional testimony during the 111th Congress demonstrated that record labels would receive 50% of the fees before artists received anything. In an economic environment where many broadcasters are struggling financially, it would be detrimental to the industry to impose yet another cumbersome fee on broadcasters. NRB was in the past actively involved in cross-spectrum discussions on this issue; however, no agreement was reached.

NRB supports a Concurrent Resolution, "Supporting the Local Radio Freedom Act" (H.Con.Res.16/S.Con.Res.6), which declares that Congress should not impose any new performance fee, tax, royalty, or other charge relating to the public performance of sound recordings on a local radio station, for broadcasting sound recordings over-the-air, or on any business for such public performance of sound recordings. This legislation is sponsored by Rep. Michael Conaway (R-TX) and Rep. Gene Green (D-TX) in the House and Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) in the Senate. 

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•Spectrum Rights

Position
NRB opposes spectrum re-allocation that would lead to signal degradation, loss of services, additional taxes, or other deleterious effects on religious broadcasters.

Summary
NRB has been tracking spectrum allocation debates for some time. The National Broadband Plan, issued by the FCC in 2010, suggested redirecting 500 MHz of spectrum for wireless broadband use. In that plan, 120 MHz of the redirected 500 MHz would come from airwaves currently licensed to television broadcasters. NRB publicly filed comments noting an auction's "substantial risks to NRB TV members, including the potential loss of spectrum, loss of coverage area, channel changes, and infrastructure costs." 

In 2012 Congress passed legislation authorizing a voluntary incentive spectrum auction.  The FCC formally began this proceeding in September 2012 in hopes of finalizing rules in 2013 and completing the auction in 2014. NRB filed public comments encouraging the FCC to purposefully protect the programming choice for Americans, specifically the religious and family programming that NRB Members provide free of charge to local communities. NRB also highlighted the "no-alter" clause in the Spectrum Act for low power television (LPTV) and proposed constructive solutions to keep important religious and family LPTV programming on the air for consumers. NRB continues to urge a process that fairly honors the services and investments of all Christian television broadcasters in their local communities. In addition, NRB supports legislative efforts to enact a much-needed comprehensive accounting of America’s electromagnetic spectrum.

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