A coalition of conservative Christian organizations wants the federal government to regulate the cable industry. To protect children from obscenity and violence, they want consumers to select only the channels they want. But some Christians say this would prevent millions from hearing the gospel.
The issue has driven a wedge between anti-indecency activists and Christian broadcasters. Concerned Women for America and the Family Research Council have been lobbying Congress against the pleas of broadcasters, who worry that offering à la carte cable would cut fatally into their programs.
"It limits what they believe is their fulfillment of the Great Commission," said Colby May, attorney for the Faith and Family Broadcasting Coalition, which includes Trinity Broadcasting Network's Paul Crouch, Christian Broadcasting Network's Pat Robertson, and pastor Jerry Falwell. "If you don't go into all the highways and the byways, where the hurt are located, you won't reach them." Few non-Christians would order religious stations, May said.
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Kevin Martin supports à la carte programming. Most observers note that the FCC, which can fine broadcast stations for indecent content, lacks authority to penalize errant cable channels.
U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said the cable industry should police itself. In late November, he threatened action if the industry didn't devise a plan for meeting "the demands of the family community" by the end of 2005.
Giving people a choice could be costly. The nonpartisan General Accounting Office has reported that unbundling subscriptions would drive up the cost of cable by demanding greater service from the provider.