The United Church of Christ is an experienced hand when it comes to dealing with media matters in general and the FCC in particular. It filed way back on 12/9/04 to have license renewals denied for a pair of network O&Os based in Miami, NBC’s WTVJ-TV and CBS’s WFOR-TV. In both cases, UCC’s gripe was that the network refused to air one of its advertisements. NBC cited its policy "against addressing issues of public controversy through paid commercial advertisements." Similarly, CBS said the ad went against its "established policy not to accept editorial advertisements." The FCC did not get into whether the ads should have been run or not. Ruling very narrowly, it noted that UCC tried to place the ads with the networks, not the individual stations. For all it knows, the FCC said, they "may have aired the spot" if given the opportunity. Therefore, the FCC had no basis upon which to deny the license renewal.
RBR observation: Will the UCC make a practice of offering its ads to at least one O&O station from now on to leave open the possibility of a license challenge if necessary? Will they get a different result? We suspect that if the individual stations had decided to turn down the ad, the end result would have been the same, although the FCC would have said that its ability to second-guess what goes out over the air on any station is severely limited by the First Amendment. The ad in question, in which the church stated its open door policy to people of all races and sexual orientation, wasn’t all that controversial in our opinion, and the networks probably should have taken the money and let UCC make its point. At any rate, we’ll stay tuned to see if a more narrowly tailored license challenge takes place if a situation like this comes up again.