Written by W. Evan Goldner
The Rev. Robert Chase, at podium, fields a reporter's question during the Oct. 15 press conference on WorldCom. Mattox Photography photo.
Issue cited is lack of corporate character: 'egregious conduct,' 'corporate nihilism'
Stating that "character counts" in the corporate world as well as for individuals, the Rev. Robert Chase, executive director of the UCC's Office of Communication, Inc., announced Oct. 15 that OC, Inc. is petitioning the Federal Communications Commission to block the transfer of federal licenses and authorizations that WorldCom uses for its long-distance, Web and other services.
Legally, the UCC action is two-fold: to file an objection to the FCC's current Debtor-in-Possession procedure in relation to WorldCom, and to file a Petition of Rulemaking to ask the FCC to undertake a Section 403 investigation under the Communications Act into industry-wide practices to see "how we might halt the slide of some in the telecom industry into corporate nihilism at the expense of the American people."
At the same time, OC, Inc. also called upon the FCC "to retake the moral authority that has been ceded to, and abandoned by, the leaders of WorldCom and to restore confidence in the telecommunications industry."
"In the digital age, stewardship of the facilities that are essential to modern e-commerce and so many social interactions must be handled by companies that are above reproach and that can be trusted to operate in the public interest," Chase said in his statement, delivered at a press conference in Washington, D.C.
He noted that WorldCom and other companies use the public airwaves under public interest authorizations. As such, he said, they must be held to the standard of behavior defined in the law and must maintain "a corporate character that assures honest and effective stewardship."
He stated confidence that the FCC investigation "will find that World-Com is unsuitable to hold any of its operating licenses and authorizations." Only the FCC, he said, "can send the clear signal to the rest of the telecommunications world that WorldCom was and is grossly unfit to serve as an Information Age steward."
For the past few months, the media have been replete with examples of WorldCom executives' unethical and illegal behavior. Initial reports were that WorldCom executives fudged the books to record $3.8 million of costs as assets; now that figure exceeds $7 billion. "The only logical conclusion ...," Chase said, "given the scope and scale of the egregious conduct ..., is revocation of all WorldCom's FCC licenses and other operating authorizations."
In the 1960s, the UCC earned its place in U.S. broadcasting history by successfully challenging the license of WLBT-TV in Jackson, Miss., for refusing to broadcast news and information about African Americans. This action was taken by OC, Inc., established by the Rev. Everett C. Parker, then head of the UCC's Office of Communication, to protect the denomination from legal action when it took prophetic risks in the name of justice.
Chase recounted this history while explaining that initially the FCC had denied OC Inc.'s WLBT petition, saying that it went beyond the scope of what the law permitted. Nevertheless, he said, "subsequent court challenges reversed the Commission, revoked the station's license, and gave the public standing in such matters."
Following that decision, the UCC initiated proceedings before the FCC to establish EEO guidelines and standards for recruitment and hiring that held the broadcast industry, and later the cable industry, to a higher standard than other sectors of society. This was "because of the pervasive and profound influence that the media have on our way of life," said Chase. "Under these guidelines, the industry made great strides towards opening the halls of power to women and people of color."
21st century technology
Chase pointed out that information transmittal is to the 21st century what broadcast was to the 20th century. "The very fabric of our life together is sustained by how we share ideas, express hopes and dreams, talk to one another," he said. "Increasingly, we talk to one another through data delivery systems."
"For the United Church of Christ not to step forward into the ethical void created by WorldCom would be a violation of our own ... calling, to defend the public interest," he concluded.