The Rev. Jerry Falwell, who was found dead at age 73 Tuesday afternoon in his Lynchburg, Va., office, supported the cable industry in the battle to combat regulations forcing the a la carte sale of video programming.
In late 2004, Falwell told the Federal Communications Commission that a la carte mandates would destroy the ability of his program, the Old Time Gospel Hour, to reach a mass audience.
“Though well-intentioned, the fact is that a la carte would threaten the very existence of religious broadcasting and the vital ministry conducted over the television airwaves,” Falwell said in a November 2004 letter to the FCC joined by nine other ministers, including the Rev. Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network and Pastor John Hagee of John Hagee Ministries.
Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority, who died from an apparent heart attack, was a controversial evangelical minister who urged religious conservatives to support Republican candidates at the polls.
Falwell weighed in at the FCC just days before the agency issued a report to Congress that raised a host of problems with forced a la carte, including potential consumer price hikes and reductions in programming diversity. After he became FCC chairman in March 2005, Kevin Martin ordered his staff to revise the report in secret to show that in some circumstances a la carte could benefit consumers.
Martin, a Republican appointee of President Bush, urged cable to adopt an a la carte model. After the industry balked, Martin endorsed federal legislation that would require the sale of cable channels on an individual basis. Martin has also endorsed refunds for consumers who blocked cable networks they purchased in a tier with dozens of channels.
Falwell and his religious allies agreed with cable that a la carte mandates would hurt their ability to spread their message as widely as possible.
“In a world in which people pre-select either in or out of religious broadcasts, that mission would be greatly compromised. Either they would be preaching to the choir or not at all. Any broadcast seeking to reach out will fail under a la carte,” the ministers’ statement said.