January 28, 2000
· Cornerstone granted broadcast license on NCE channel: On December 29, 1999, the FCC released a decision approving the application for assignment of license of WQEX(TV) Channel 16, Pittsburgh, PA, from WQED Pittsburgh to Cornerstone TeleVision, Inc., and the application for assignment of license of WPCB-TV, Channel 40, Greensburg, PA, from Cornerstone to Paxson Pittsburgh License, Inc. In short, Cornerstone sought and was granted authority to move from Channel 40 to Channel 16, and to sell Channel 40 to Paxson. In granting the application the FCC denied the petitions of those who opposed the deal based on the religious nature of some of Cornerstone's programming.
· Limited Number of Non Commercial Educational Channels: Since 1952, the Commission has reserved a limited number of television channels for educational broadcasters, including Channel 16 in Pittsburgh. Applicants seeking to use NCE-reserved television channels have always been required to demonstrate that their programming will be "primarily educational" in nature and thus serve the educational purpose for which the channel was reserved. CFR 73.621(a). In a small number of cases, including the Cornerstone application, religious broadcasters have requested that they be certified as NCE TV broadcasters and thereby they become subject to the standards of an NCE TV station.
· Commission Defers to Judgment of Licensees: In all license transactions, the Commission generally defers to the program judgments and decisions of the licensees, and does not review programming definitional issues on a factual basis unless the Commission first determines that a substantial and material question of fact has arisen that the licensee's judgments are arbitrary and unreasonable.
· FCC Sought to Clarify 48-Year Old Standard: In granting Cornerstone's application, the Commission also sought to clarify standards that apply to Cornerstone and any other broadcaster, religious or otherwise, seeking Commission certification as an educational television broadcaster eligible for a reserved NCE channel. The Order in the case included two paragraphs of "Additional Guidance" to be used in the future to help resolve any factual issue raised about when programming is "primarily educational."
· FCC Vacates "Additional Guidance" Only; Grant of Applications Remains in Effect;
FCC Will Continue to Defer to Licensee Judgment: On January 28, 2000, the Commission issued an Order vacating the "Additional Guidance" on this issue that was contained within the Order on the Cornerstone decision. The grants of the underlying applications remain in effect. The Commission said that widespread public confusion over the meaning and effect of the "Additional Guidance" language, instead of helping parties understand this complex definitional issue of what constitutes educational programming, was instead causing considerable misunderstanding. It said that it would continue to defer to broadcaster programming judgments, and handle any factual disputes about educational programming on a case-by-case basis as it has done for the past 48 years since allocating the NCE channels. The Order was voted 4-1, with Commissioner Furchtgott-Roth issuing a concurring statement and Commissioner Tristani dissenting and issuing a separate statement.
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