FCC Requires Closed Captioning for Church Broadcasters
Updated: January 24, 2019
In 2011, the FCC determined that church broadcasters must follow FCC broadcast closed captioning standards. That means providing full, accurate, time-synced, and correctly formatted captions for religious programs.
FCC broadcasting regulations govern video content that is broadcast on American television. Internet content is only subject to FCC regulation if it also aired on US television with captions.
See CVAA Online Video Captioning Requirements for more information.
About the Requests
The Bureau’s rescindment was instigated by a coalition of advocacy groups for the deaf and hard of hearing. The coalition argued that the order “improperly and unilaterally established a new class of exempt programming.”
Official rulings were issued for the Van Buren First Assembly of God petition, the First Baptist Church, Fort Smith, Arkansas petition, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Gaylord petition.
Can Church Broadcasters Be Exempt?
Faith broadcasters can submit a petition for a closed captioning exemption due to economic hardship. The FCC will only approve an exemption if the applicant proves that they lack sufficient funds to provide closed captions, even after pursuing sponsorship.
While advocates for the deaf are pleased that more programming will become accessible, some religious broadcasters are concerned that this move could shut down some programming because of the additional costs involved with captioning.
In one case, the church claimed that providing closed captioning would divert funds from other activities, having a detrimental effect. The FCC’s ruling emphasizes that if a company has the funds, then captioning must be a priority, even at the expense of other programs.
Other religious broadcasters pointed to their annual budgets, which showed income and expenses at the break even point. The FCC, however, looked at the churches’ total assets and liabilities (including property, securities, and receivables) and concluded that they had sufficient assets to pay for captioning.
Language from the Van Buren First Assembly of God petition is echoed in the other FCC decisions:
“In this Memorandum Opinion and Order (Order), we address a petition filed by Van Buren First Assembly of God (Van Buren) for an exemption from the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s or Commission’s) closed captioning requirements for its program, Reach Out.
Because we conclude that Van Buren has not demonstrated that its compliance with the Commission’s closed captioning requirements for this program would be economically burdensome to it, we deny the Petition.
In light of our action, Reach Out must be captioned no later than October 19, 2015, which is 90 days from the date of the release of this Order.”
Given these FCC rulings, it appears that closed caption exemptions will only be granted if the church truly does not have the funds to pay for captioning. Otherwise, faith broadcasters must caption their programs.
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