It’s Christians vs. Tea Party on TV’s Must-Carry Rule

Pending legislation would allow cable providers to drop smaller broadcast stations, notably religious and foreign-language

It's the Christians versus the Tea Party.

The National Religious Broadcasters is urging Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) to drop their support for legislation eliminating must-carry regulations — a proposal the group claims could spell the ruin of many religious broadcasters.

“This legislation could be fatal to many Christian TV stations and may harm the ability of millions of Americans to continue accessing the religious programming on which they rely,” said Frank Wright, NRB president and CEO, in virtually identical letters Monday to the lawmakers.

The must-carry rules, regulated by the Federal Communications Commission, give broadcast TV stations the right to have their signals carried on the cable systems in their local markets. 

Eliminating the rules would allow cable operators to refuse to carry the signals, likely tossing off many religious, smaller independent and foreign-language stations.

Eliminating must-carry is part of the de-regulatory Next Generation Television Marketplace Act, which DeMint and Scalise introduced in December.

The legislation also would throw out all broadcast ownership restrictions and retransmission consent. The latter gives broadcasters who choose to forgo must-carry the right to negotiate fees with pay-TV providers.

Introduced both in the Senate and the House, the bill has been referred to congressional committees.

In his letters, Wright said religious stations often rely on the rules for cable carriage.

“Eliminating those rules would be of significant detriment to the stations NRB represents and the viewers that rely on them for spiritual guidance,” Wright wrote.

DeMint — the ranking Republican on the Senate Communications subcommittee, a leading Senate conservative and a prominent supporter of the Tea Party movement — has not responded to emails seeking comment.

However, in a statement, Scalise denied that the legislation would disrupt the ability of any broadcaster to continue offering free, over-the-air service to consumers and would have no impact on not-for-profit religious broadcasters.

“My bill promotes a return to true free-market principles, and I have no doubt that commercial religious programming, demanded by consumers, will be carried by pay-TV providers at a fair market price,” Scalise said.

NRB’s opposition raises serious doubts about the prospects for the elimination of the must-carry regulations, an individual familiar with the situation told TheWrap.

“Religious broadcasters are very influential with conservative members of Congress,” the individual said.