Written by Daniel Hazard
An array of faith groups, including Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Protestant Christians, Jews and Muslims participated in major forum on Jan. 9 in New York calling for more religion access to broadcast media outlets.
"Despite what the media portrays, it is a myth to assume that there is a monolithic national religious message," said the Rev. Robert Chase, the UCC's director of communications.
The event, attended by dozens of religious leaders and two Federal Communications Commission members, Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps, was co-sponsored by the UCC's Office of Communication, Inc. and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Several speakers voiced frustration that mainstream religious communities often have difficulty accessing media markets dominated by conglomerates that own multiple stations and make programming decisions based on economic efficiency, not community need.
Mainstream faith is often excluded or displaced by more-strident and extremist religious views, many speakers said.
"We are not saying that marketplace values, which so dominate the debate today, are invalid. Rather, we claim they are insufficient for the public good," said Chase, who also chairs the National Council of Churches' communication commission. "We call upon the FCC to exercise its congressionally mandated authority and set policies based not on economic efficiencies, but on the public interest, and restore the airwaves to the people."
The forum was held at the Manhattan studios of WNET Public Television.
"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's communication commission.
The Most Rev. Gerald F. Kicanas, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Tucson, said, "We represent a vast number of people in this country and it is that voice that needs to be heard."
FCC Commissioner Adelstein said he shared the speakers' views.
"There was a bargain struck that in exchange for the free use of the airwaves; they [broadcast stations] would serve the public interest," Adelstein said. "But today, half that bargain - the public interest obligation - is gone."
Added Commissioner Copps, "I am a worried citizen. I am concerned that this nation's media so seldom reflect and so seldom appeal to the better angels of our nature."
The Rev. Bob Edgar, the NCC's general secretary, said, "The voice of middle church, middle mosque and middle synagogue is not being heard."
The Muslim community, according to Imam Izak-el Pasha of the Masjid Malcolm Shabazz 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."
Chase also spoke about how the UCC's TV commercial was excluded by major networks in 2005 and 2006.
"One [network] executive claimed the ad promotes gay marriage and since the current administration is opposed to gay marriage, it would be inappropriate to air the commercial."
The FCC has yet to respond to a January 2005 complaint filed by the UCC against two network-owned Miami stations that refused to air the ads.