Office of Communications, Inc.

UCC Media Justice Update

Big step toward improved understanding and participation in elections

The United Church of  Christ's media justice ministry celebrated an important victory today which will help the UCC's Our Faith, Our Vote initiative by increasing the public's knowledge of the money involved in political campaigns this year.  The Federal Communications Commission ("FCC") adopted rules requiring television broadcasters to put information about political advertising online, rather than requiring individuals to visit station offices in person.


"The decision today will bring media accountability into the modern technological era where it belongs," said Cheryl Leanza, policy advisor to the UCC's media justice ministry, known as OC Inc.  "The United Church of Christ's members have always placed tremendous emphasis on civic participation and this decision will further that end," said Earl Williams, chair of OC Inc.


“The United Church of Christ’s Justice and Witness Ministries encourages our members strongly encourage engagement to promote civility and bring our hope-filled vision to civic life through Our Faith, Our Vote,” said Sandra Sorensen, Director of the Justice and Witness Ministries Washington Office.  “We are pleased our sister ministry was able to successfully influence decision-makers today so that we can incorporate this new resource into this year’s online Our Faith, Our Vote toolkit to further promote participation in and understanding of the 2012 elections.”


The decision will put data about the cost political advertisements and the identify of their  purchasers online for the first time for network-affiliated stations in the top 50 television markets in the country.  Critical to this year's elections, the disclosure will apply to advertisements by the new superPACs.  Currently this information is open for public inspection, but it is contained in file cabinets in television station offices all over the country.  The decision will have immediate practical impact.  For example, Kent State University journalism professor Karl Idsvoog recently described to National Public Radio his experience of sending journalism students to Cleveland-area television stations, explaining that students were charged 50 cents per page to make paper copies.  And the UCC's Our Faith, Our Vote toolkit advises UCC members about how to track television coverage by hand, watching shows and timing coverage.   "Instead of 50 cent copies and hand tallied charts, we can encourage our members and particularly young people to learn about the back-room decisions that influence elections," said Ms. Leanza.


"This is the product of many years of advocacy by the United Church of Christ's media justice ministry," said Mr. Williams  "Our work today follows in the footsteps of UCC media justice pioneer, Everett Parker, who established the legal foundation for all public participation in national communications policy through his work at the UCC as part of the civil rights movement."


The decision is an overall positive one, although several limitations remain.  In particular, important cities in swing states will not be subject to the new disclosure until 2014 because they are not in the top-50 television markets.  For example, cities like Dayton and Toledo, Ohio are not included.    Stations not affiliated with a national network, such as WGN in Chicago, are also excluded until 2014.  The Federal Communications Commission also rejected some other online disclosure proposals, such as online disclosure when advertisers sponsor programming content and transparency for agreements that reduce the number of journalists in a city.


"Most important yet to come," said Ms. Leanza, "are the proposed improvements to the content of disclosures."  The UCC's media justice ministry has helped to craft a proposal that will give more information, not only about paid political advertisements, but to track political news coverage about local issues.  "This second step has been promised to us by the start of the fall election season.  We look forward to seeing the FCC complete its work," noted Leanza.


The United Church of Christ is a faith community rooted in justice that recognizes the unique power of the media to shape public understanding and thus society.  For this reason, UCC’s Office of Communication, Inc. (OC, Inc.) works to create just and equitable media structures that give meaningful voice to diverse peoples, cultures and ideas.  Established in 1959, OC Inc. ultimately established the right of all citizens to participate at the Federal Communications Commission as part of its efforts to ensure a television broadcaster in Jackson, MS served its African-American viewers during the civil rights movement. 


The Cleveland-based United Church of Christ has 5,700 local congregations across the United States.  It was formed by the 1957 union of the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church.


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