The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is reversing a decision that gave religious broadcasters an exemption to an FCC rule requiring closed captioning for the deaf and hearing impaired. Broadcasters currently exempt from providing closed captioning have 90 days to comply, or obtain another exemption.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 required the FCC to establish a suitable timetable by which television broadcasters and equipment manufacturers would be required to provide closed captioning, or a text transcription of the program provided for those who are deaf or hearing impaired.
The FCC required broadcasters to fulfill the closed captioning requirement by January 2006, but gave an exemption, called the “Anglers' Order,” to small and medium sized religious broadcasters.
A coalition of organizations representing the deaf and hearing impaired, including the National Association for the Deaf, filed a complaint with the FCC. The 1996 law allows the FCC to provide exemptions, but the FCC was providing exemptions to any non-profit broadcaster. The complaint argues that this exemption is too broad because it does not require broadcasters to show that compliance would create a financial hardship. If broadcasters reapply for an exemption, they must show that providing closed captioning would create a financial hardship to obtain the exemption.
The coalition of organizations representing the deaf and hearing impaired also complained that they were shut out of the review process for providing exemptions.
“This was a process that went awry. Now, we are going back to Square One,” Craig Parshall, senior vice president of the National Religious Broadcasters, told Politico.
Parshall also said that religious broadcasters want to reach the deaf and hearing disabled with their message, but they are also concerned that compliance costs could force them off the air.
“We believe our message needs to get out to the deaf and disabled communities. All we want is a sensible regulatory structure that recognizes the plight of the small Christian broadcaster.”
The FCC is also currently considering applying the closed captioning rules to Internet video.
The news could revive a decades-old myth, circulated on the Internet, that the FCC is trying to shut down religious broadcasters. One version of the myth falsely attributes an email to Dr. James Dobson, formerly of Focus on the Family.