Freedom of Air Jeopardized

Radio evangelism in action.

By CHARLES A. RENTFRO, Traffic Co-ordinator, General Conference Radio Commission

One rather disconcerting revelation as we enter the new year is the sobering thought that our individual freedoms are gradually being cur­tailed. Under wartime pressure we admit the need for these temporary restrictions. Yet long before the pall of global war spread itself over the earth, insidious inroads were being made on our hard-earned freedoms, particularly freedom of speech. Good governments have always gained by the critical but honest opinions of the governed. This accounts for the strength of democratic kov­ernments, of which the world's outstanding pattern is the United States of America.

Our founding fathers wisely willed to us a grand legacy of human rights aimed to prevent the un­lawful restriction of free speech. What further provisions there might have been if the radio had then been in existence ! Yet today, in A.D. 3945, the issue of free speech has become a subject of intense controversy, fanned by the struggles in foreign lands. Our fair land is feeling the hot waves from the seething caldrons of hate and sus­picion, under which have been kindled the fires of persecution, oppression, and banishment.

The first to feel the impact of this critical out­look have been the press and radio news agencies. They are in a jittery condition today. One great news-gathering association is struggling to main­tain the freedom of news at its source. If news­men are disturbed, what may be said of the radio world? Carrying the analogy still further, what about religious news commentators and broadcast­ers? Apparently convinced that "religion pays" and that there must be such a thing as "racketeer religious programs," certain radio stations have adopted a most unusual practice. National rate cards are requiring the Too per cent payment of "A" time, regardless of the position of a religious program on a schedule, in contrast with commer­cial programs which carry a lesser rate. For the local broadcaster, in terms of financial support, this is tantamount to taxing his property out of existence. It is definitely a freezing-out process. This regulation was preceded by another onerous restriction imposed by many stations, which pre­vents the scheduling of religious programs on Sunday afternoons and evenings.

Lest we judge the radio industry too harshly, we should go behind the scenes to see for our­selves what may be prompting this rather unusual condition. Unlike many other types of business corporations, radio stations must depend on the uncertain practice of licensing which is granted by the Federal Communications Commission. The Saturday Evening Post of July 22, 1944, is au­thority for the statement made by Henry F. Prin­gle that a "bitter grievance of the industry is the issuance of only temporary licenses to many sta­tions—licenses which normally range from a few weeks to six months."

For a struggling radio station this is the sword of Damocles dangling by a flimsy thread overhead. Further complicating factors arise from labor unions which have conducted strikes among musi­cians and radio technicians, even to the banning of recordings to major producers until they have signed contracts with the union. These varied and complicated restraints, added to royalty charges now accruing to the union and all the many other restrictions of script content and security meas­ures, make such a load that the radio industry can hardly bear it. And who pays for all this? Ob­viously it is the advertiser, or the sponsor. Will the advertiser stand the added cost for long? Hardly! The additional cost of broadcasting is eventually taxed upon the consumer. The hard­working wage earner begins to clamor for higher wages—and thus the vicious circle goes on and on. Therein are the makings of inflation and the be­ginnings of government price controls, which, to be enforced, call for rigid and drastic measures.

Apparently a similar condition exists in many countries overseas. In Mexico the radio broad­casting association appealed for freedom of speech over the air not long ago. Another country in South America issued a ban on recorded broad­casts, requiring a live broadcast. Certain reli­gious programs went off the air entirely. All this is a direct attack upon religious freedom as we have known it in the Western Hemisphere.

Certain Protestant programs are having great difficulties, if not total black-outs, in other coun­tries with large Catholic following, and in Protest­ant America "religion now gets a top billing on the airways, with Catholic programs well to the fore," according to the October, 1944, issue of the Catholic Digest. This generous treatment of Catholic broadcasts by the major networks, as compared with that accorded the various Protest­ant programs which must finance their own way without recourse to public appeals for funds over the radio, is indicative of a very significant trend.

Truly the door of human rights is being opened in preparation for invasion upon those dearly held freedoms of centuries past. When such limita­tions, plus the restricted availability of time sched­ules, are forcing religious broadcasters of long standing off the air, then it is well to pause in deep reflection and justified concern over what is coming over the world.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

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By CHARLES A. RENTFRO, Traffic Co-ordinator, General Conference Radio Commission

March 1945

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