Religious Radio, TV Broadcasters Eye Public Policy: Conferees Seek Voice on Legislation

Article excerpt

The nation's religious broadcasters, who reach at least 40 million listeners weekly, say they still are political novices, so they have launched a project to tell Congress about their market and regulatory concerns.

"We have an enormous reservoir of good will on Capitol Hill," Stuart Epperson, a first vice chairman of National Religious Broadcasters, said during the association's first two-day "public policy" conference in Washington, which ended yesterday.

But the hundreds of evangelical-Christian radio and television stations, despite their millions of followers, "are reactive to issues, rather than proactive," he said.

The failure of evangelical lobbying, Mr. Epperson said, is seen in how a small homosexual lobby can set national debates on same-sex "marriage" and military service, but school-prayer laws fail - despite polls that show 70 percent public support.

While much has been written about the political influence of "the religious right" on the airwaves, leaders of the industry said at a conference in Washington that they've hardly even sampled lobbying, and usually do it only in an emergency.

"If we don't stand, we will lose our freedom of broadcasting," said Mr. Epperson, chairman of Salem Communications, the parent company of WAVA-FM in Arlington, one of the most-listened-to Christian stations in the nation.

The public-policy conference was launched in Washington after NRB began in 1993 to rotate its annual trade convention - which had met in the capital for nearly 50 years - around the country.

Before the sudden surge of conservative talk radio in the early 1990s, religious broadcasting was considered the primary vehicle for spreading a morally conservative philosophy to voters.

In the past decade, religious broadcasters barely escaped the potentially crippling effects of a proposed reinstitution of the Federal Communications Commission's "fairness doctrine" and a cable-TV industry attempt to deny "must carry" rules. …