Churches File for New Closed-Caption Exemptions

WASHINGTON: Around 80 religious programmers have filed for new financial-hardship exemptions from closed-captioning rules. The Federal Communications Commission changed the qualifications for exemptions last October, and notified 590 programmers they would have to file new petitions for exemptions granted under rules established in 2006. The deadline for those petitions was last Wednesday. Those who failed to petition the FCC for a new exemption had to start providing closed captions by the next day, Thursday, Jan. 19.

Previously, closed-captioning exemptions were based on the Anglers Order, which arose from a petition filed by “The Christian Angler Outdoors Television Show.” The Anglers order granted exemptions based on the “noncommercial nature and lack of remunerative value” of the programming. Anglers, and another petitioner, New Beginning, received permanent exemptions, while another 300 programmers were granted a blanket exemption based on the Angler criteria. Advocacy groups for the deaf and hard-of-hearing pushed and subsequently won a review the Anglers order.

The commission’s October ruling said it should have considered “all of the petitioners’ available resources.... not just the resources allocated for the programs for which the exemptions were sought.” It rescinded the permanent exemptions and required the rest to demonstrate financial hardship.

The new petitions called for documentation of finances, the cost and nature of close-captioning the programming in question, the impact on the organization, its financial resources and what it’s done to raise money or obtain assistance for closed captioning. The FCC said it would dismiss any petitions that failed to provide the required information.

The majority of the 80 or so petitions accepted for consideration were from religious programmers, including Cross TV in Boca Raton, Fla., which has three paid employees and ran at a loss the last two years. Founder Mark Kielar said closed-captioning would cost the organization around $183,000 a year and lead to an annual deficit “too staggeringly high to even supplement,” forcing the programmer to shut down.

Pastor Tom Lowry of illustrates a similar circumstance for the Curtis Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga. Local ABC affiliate, WJBF-TV carries the 11 a.m. Sunday church service on a delay. The church pays what he describes as a “good rate” for air time, but that WJBF “is unable to provide closed captioning services for us.” He said CC quotes came in from $350 to $500 an hour. “This would increased our per-week cost by 45 to 64 percent,” he said.

The folks at the Dilworth Church of Christ in Jasper, Ala., are in arrears with Birmingham CBS affiliate WIAT-42 to the tune of $4,590 for “Seeking the Lost.” The church demonstrated a bank balance of $2,161.26 as of Dec. 28, 2011.

Under the commission’s revised criteria, exemptions will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. It will consider the duration of each exemption likewise.

“In this regard, the commission recognized that ‘changes in technology, the economics of captioning or the financial resources of a video programming provider may affect the justification of an undue burden exemption’ over time,” the FCC October order stated. 
~Deborah D. McAdams