NASHVILLE (NRB) -- The National Religious Broadcasters received encouraging news from the Federal Communications Commission and veteran lawyers commenting on the government entity’s work during Proclaim 18, the NRB’s International Christian Media Convention.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai spoke to the Christian communicators gathered for the annual meeting in a video shown in both the opening session February 27 and an FCC session March 1. He pledged to continue to speak out for free speech and thanked NRB for its instrumental support in the last year. Meanwhile, a panel of veteran lawyers pointed to the deregulation efforts of the commission and addressed several of its policies during the March 1 discussion about the FCC.
In his pre-recorded remarks, Pai expressed concern about the state of free speech in the United States.
“In recent years, we’ve seen warning signs that our nation’s commitment to freedom of speech is beginning to unravel,” he said. “Too often today, the mantra seems to be: ‘Free speech for me but not for thee.’”
The internet is the “newest and most important battlefield in the fight for free speech,” Pai told attendees. Online platforms have blocked or discriminated against “lawful content” they don’t like, he said.
“Whether it’s online or over the airwaves, we need to reaffirm our nation’s commitment to free expression,” Pai said. “That’s why I haven’t been afraid to call out censorship when I see it. I pledge to you today that I will continue to fight for your right to have your voices heard.”
NRB unveiled its Internet Freedom Watch in December to address the problem Pai mentioned. In introducing the initiative to curtail discrimination against Christian and conservative content, NRB called attention to censorship by tech companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Apple.
Pai also told NRB the commission is “committed to removing or modernizing regulations that hold you back.” The FCC has “been working to identify which rules are still necessary and which should be modified or eliminated,” he said.
One regulation the FCC decided last year to change was a restriction that prevented noncommercial radio stations from interrupting their programing to raise funds for third-party charities without FCC approval. The FCC relaxed that rule in April to permit such fundraising, and it was fully implemented within a few months.
NRB requested the revision, and Pai thanked the association for its help in his first year as chairman on that issue and others.
“Led by the able and courageous [President] Dr. Jerry Johnson and [Vice President of Government Relations] Aaron Mercer, you have supported me personally and given me a lift too many times to count,” Pai told NRB. “You have been instrumental in a number of our proceedings, which has helped us make better decisions.
“We have you at NRB to thank for championing [the fundraising] proposal and for being patient while it took too many years to get adopted.”
Joseph Chautin, a Louisiana lawyer specializing in broadcast law, told attendees at the March 1 panel discussion that the FCC’s deregulation effort is “breathtaking.”
“Just about every month, there is a rule at the commission applicable to broadcasters that is either being changed or is being proposed to be done away with and/or we are at least starting the conversation about those things as part of” the FCC’s modernization initiative, Chautin said.
“We have not seen this kind of deregulatory effort in a while ... maybe a couple of decades.”
Another rule eliminated by the FCC in the last year dated to 1939. The commission voted to rescind a requirement that radio and television stations operate a main studio in the cities in which they were licensed.
David Oxenford, a Washington lawyer and editor of the Broadcast Law Blog, expressed his concern during the March 1 session that station owners will forget to serve their communities when they shut down studios. “So make sure you are still serving in your community even without a studio,” he said.
Another longtime rule the FCC has recently demonstrated it will enforce bars noncommercial stations from promoting for-profit entities in exchange for a payment.
Pai and the commission are “all about eliminating stupid rules,” Chautin said. “[B]ut this is probably one that is not going to be eliminated.”
The other member of the panel, Washington lawyer Karyn Ablin, explained licensing and copyright rates for both musical works – which consist of the lyrics and music – and sound recordings.
The panel reminded broadcasters March 1, the date of the session, was the deadline for completing the transition from paper public files to online public files that will be posted on the FCC’s website.
The panelists also addressed such issues as FM translators and the biennial ownership reports, which were due March 2.
By Tom Strode
Published: March 5, 2018