Those who follow our advocacy efforts have no doubt seen various alerts about troubling developments at the Federal Communications Commission in the last 30 days. Essentially, the FCC has begun granting permanent exemptions to non-commercial entities who ask not to be required to caption their programs. There is no longer any analysis of whether or not captioning a program would create “undue burden.”
As a person of faith, I am personally embarrassed to say that all of the initial hundreds of exemptions requested have come from churches and other religious broadcasters. They are literally lining up to ask for this exemption.
Several of us who are gravely concerned about this widening loophole had the opportunity to met with FCC Chairman Martin one night this week. In the course of our meeting, I told him that if my church came to me and said they were going to start a broadcast, but did not have the money to caption it, I would say that we could not afford to start a broadcast. He asked me if I would have the same opinion if the broadcast were already on the air, and the captioning requirement would cause the broadcast to go off the air. I responded that yes, I would say that the production costs are out of our reach right now.
We need to see the FCC reconsider these latest actions, we also have work to do with religious broadcasters, and non-profit organizations who will no doubt follow in their footsteps. We already heard from one captioning provider that three broadcasters cancelled their captioning contract this week when they heard of the new process in place at the FCC.
Yet, there is another issue here, too, and that is with the churches and religious broadcasters who see captioning as a government regulation to escape. Imagine a broadcaster saying that they could not afford sound equipment, so their programs would have to go out without audio. It is the same thing that is happening here. Captioning, which is probably around $300 per program, is simply the cost of producing a broadcast.
Another issue is the blatant discrimination by churches and other ministries choosing not to caption their programs. It is the equivalent is putting a sign out front that says “no blacks allowed.”
The broadcasters who are asking for exemptions need to be contacted and held accountable. As soon as we get the names, we plan to post them on our website.