Will Senate loosen definition of ‘educational’ channels?

Public broadcasters are ramping up efforts to secure support of their position in the Senate after the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation that could force the FCC to permit religious broadcasters to use reserved noncommercial educational channels without determining whether they carry educational programs or not. The Noncommercial Broadcasting Freedom of Expression Act, H.R. 4201, passed the House 264-159 on June 20, with six Republicans and 153 Democrats opposed. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Charles W. “Chip” Pickering (R-Miss.) but largely rewritten by House telecom subcommittee Chair Billy Tauzin (R-La.), gives nonprofit organizations the right to hold noncommercial educational (NCE) radio or television licenses if the station broadcasts material the organization itself deems to serve an “educational, instructional, cultural or religious purpose.” The bill notes that religious programming “contributes to serving the educational and cultural needs of the public,” and dictates that the FCC treat it the same way it treats educational programming. Before the legislation’s passage, the House rejected an alternative offered by Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) that would have mandated the reserved channels be primarily educational.