What do Jerry Falwell and the Sci-Fi Channel have in common? Okay, you can enter your comments below, but the real answer is that they both figure to lose if the U.S. Senate passes a so-called cable TV reform bill that would allow cable customers to pay for their television by the channel, instead of having to buy packages of hundreds of channels at once. If the bill becomes law, according to an editorial by Rev. Falwell, it will likely force much Christian televangelism off the air. That, says the founder of the Moral Majority, would be a very, very bad thing.
Why would a Congress stuffed with born-again Baptists do such a thing? The GOP majority is convinced that cable is too expensive, and too crowded with nasty niche programming that corrupts our children’s minds. They hope that by mandating a per-channel payment system, more kids will see better, more wholesome fare.
But like many government mandates, this one may backfire. As one member of Congress who opposes per-channel billing explains, “Most consumers would pay more for less, as the sweeping rules would decimate small and niche programmers while hiking prices.” Why? because cable channels that now get a share of HBO’s subscription audience would be cut out of the picture if that audience could buy HBO alone.
Religious stations would be in the same boat as these other low-drawing stations. “Faith-based and family-oriented broadcasting does not draw the same level of advertising,” says the Faith and Family Broadcasting Coalition’s website. If forced to compete in a per-channel world, religious broadcasters would have to charge customers much more than they pay now just to survive. That would cause some customers to drop the Rev. Falwell and his bretheren; others, of course, would simply have less money to send to the ministries’ 800 number.