FCC ending closed-captioning exemption for dioceses


Catholic News Service

Ten U.S. dioceses are considering whether to appeal a Federal Communications Commission order lifting the waiver they had earlier been granted that had permitted the dioceses to not use closed-captioning for the programs they produce.

Most of the dioceses produce a weekly televised Mass.

The deadline to appeal the revocations is Jan. 12. The exemptions were lifted in October.

The 10 dioceses were among 303 program-producing entities whose FCC waivers were revoked. Most of the rest are individual Christian congregations that produce their own shows.

The Diocese of Lake Charles, La., one of the affected dioceses, said it would seek a new waiver. It does not do a weekly televised Mass but has other programming.

Morris LeBleu, who produces “Glad Tidings,” an hourlong news and interview program that has aired for the past 30 years, told Catholic News Service that to comply with the FCC order, “we feel it would cost us a third more a week, up to a half,” to produce the program. The current costs, according to LeBleu, are $1,550 in weekly production costs, and $850 each Sunday for the airtime on a local broadcast network affiliate.

Another cost consideration for Lake Charles, LeBleu said, was the possibility that the station airing “Glad Tidings” will be switching to high-definition broadcasting entirely, which would force the diocese to buy new equipment.

Also at issue is time, according to LeBleu. The last segment to be recorded for the broadcast is a news segment, done the Tuesday night before the Sunday airing. “There’s no way for us to send it to a production company or a captioning company and do it in a timely fashion to (get it to) the television station by their deadline,” he said.

The Diocese of Grand Rapids, Mich., said it was not going to challenge the waiver revocation, because it has already been providing closed-captioning services for its hourlong live Sunday Mass which airs from St. Andrew Cathedral in downtown Grand Rapids.

“Back when we received the exemption, we decided to offer closed-captioning, so we have been doing it throughout this time period,” said Mary Haarman, communications director, who added the diocese received its exemption three or four years ago.

“We just felt it was a matter of justice to provide it for those who have limited hearing or any disability in that regard,” said Haarman. The cost to the diocese is $400 a month, she added.

“We feel it’s equitable, in light of the people it serves,” Haarman told CNS. The Mass has aired live for more than 50 years, and is currently shown on the city’s Fox affiliate. Haarman noted the station would air the diocese’s Christmas Midnight Mass live as well.

The Archdiocese of San Francisco has, even with the waiver, closed-captioned its Masses for the past year. Msgr. Harry Schlitt, head of God Squad Productions, which records the Mass, said it adds about $10,000 to production costs. The turnaround time from a Pennsylvania firm is three weeks, but “they get every word,” he said.

Msgr. Schlitt noted the Mass is carried in three over-the-air stations and six cable outlets reaching from the California-Oregon border to Monterey, Calif. God Squad Productions has to raise $40,000 of its $70,000 annual budget from outside sources, but Msgr. Schlitt said he gets 10 pieces of mail a week, often with checks from grateful viewers — including some who appreciate the closed-captioning.

“I’ve been in the radio-TV business for 30 years. When I was on Armed Forces Radio, I never got more than three letters a week,” he added.

The Diocese of Reno, Nev., said it would not seek a new waiver and instead has made plans for closed-captioning.

The past practice in the diocese has been for four Masses in a row to be taped at a Carmelite convent in the diocese, each using different priests and congregations, according to Brother Matthew Cunningham, diocesan chancellor.

But the diocese will accelerate its taping schedule to allow time for closed-captioning, said Brother Cunningham, a Brother of the Congregation of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary.

“When we made the first decision way back (to seek a waiver) we really didn’t feel that we had the financial ability to do closed-captioning, and it still is going to be a challenge” to raise the funds, Brother Cunningham said. “But since they have required that we reapply, Bishop (Randolph R.) Calvo (of Reno) would really like us to go ahead and do the closed-captioning and provide that service for the people out there who need it.”

Reno’s ABC affiliate charges about $600 per Mass to go to the convent, tape it and edit it to fit the 30-minute broadcast time window, he added. Providing closed-captioning will add $150-$200 a week to the cost, Brother Cunningham said.

“We feel this is an issue that’s not going to go away,” he added. “And even if we were to get an exemption this time, we would probably lose it again later.”

The other dioceses affected by the waiver revocations are the Archdiocese of Miami’s Television Center, and the Dioceses of Burlington, Vt., Gaylord, Mich., Lafayette, La., Lincoln, Neb., and Youngstown, Ohio.