FCC: Religious Broadcasts Now Need Closed-Captioning

Churches are no longer automatically exempt from providing closed-captioning in broadcasts after the FCC recently decided to enforce the rules more stringently.

The move came after advocacy groups for the deaf petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to overturn the long-standing policy of granting mass-exemptions, Politico reported. The policy has been in effect since 2006.

The FCC ruled against maintaining the blanket exemptions on Oct. 20.

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While church groups are immediately affected by the ruling, individual churches can still apply for exemptions when providing closed-captioning would be “economically burdensome,” according to the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Website. Groups previously exempt have 90 days to reapply under the new terms.

The exemptions were previously issued to non-profits across the country, including at least 300 churches. Advocates for the deaf hope the new ruling will make more programming accessible for the demographic.

“Now, we look forward to viewing more TV shows that were not captioned before,” said Jim House, spokesperson for Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc., to Politico.

The FCC does not have a clear policy covering all church broadcasts, which currently fall under rules governing non-commercial broadcasters.

The criteria for proving undue-burden has not changed in the FCC ruling, rather the method for granting exemptions has changed from mass filings to individual requests.

It is unclear how many previously exempt church broadcasts will qualify for exemptions under the new rules.

“This was a process that went awry,” said Craig Parshall, senior vice president of the National Religious Broadcasters, an international association of Christian communicators, to Politico. “Now, we are going back to Square One.”

The NRB has previously worked with the FCC to help craft rules governing non-commercial broadcasters, including a potential change that would allow non-commercial broadcasters to spend up to 1 percent of airtime raising funds for non-profit groups, according to the NRB.

The ruling is likely to predominantly affect small and medium size churches across the country and could force some programs off the air.

“We believe our message needs to get out to the deaf and disabled communities,” Parshall told Politico. “All we want is a sensible regulatory structure that recognizes the plight of the small Christian broadcaster.”

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