Gaylord Opryland When the National Religious Broadcasters holds the Opening General Session of its 2009 convention in Nashville on Feb. 7, the new U.S. president, Barack Obama, will have been in office for just 18 days. After eight years of a Republican administration and, for the most part, Republican Congress, NRB officials say they don't know quite what to expect.
"We're trying to be cautiously observant right now," said Craig Parshall, NRB senior vice president and general counsel, "and take in as much information as we can about the direction of the new White House administration as well as the new configuration of the Congress."
Parshall pointed particularly at changes at the FCC. "That also means a new chairmancy of the Federal Communications Commission," where in addition to a Democratic chairman there will be a 3–2 Democratic majority supplanting the majority Republicans have enjoyed during Bush's terms.
"That means a lot of things in the hopper that haven't been decided yet are going to be brought up again with a new perspective," he said. "We're fairly certain that we're going to see a major sea change in terms of the increase of threats, either expressed or implied, to the freedom of Christian broadcasters to broadcast opinions and viewpoints freely.
If You Go What: NRB2009
When: Feb. 7–10
Where: Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, Nashville, Tenn.
Who: "The annual Convention & Exposition is the largest nationally and internationally recognized event dedicated solely to assist those in the field of Christian communications. The dynamic Exposition consists of over 300 companies and is an active marketplace for those seeking tools and services to expand their ministries."
How much: Members $525/$625, Non-members $670/$770; Exposition $200/$250 (rates increase Jan. 23) "I say that because Democrat leadership for the last year, particularly the more liberal wing of the Democrat Party, has been calling for reinstitution of the Fairness Doctrine. We believe that would be a major federal power grab, wresting programming control out of the hands of broadcasters and putting it in the hands of federal bureaucrats."
Parshall said the Fairness Doctrine "is not the only danger that we see, or even the major danger." He pointed to media ownership regulations and public interest obligations as examples.
"And then, of course, there's something that's not necessarily broadcasting in nature, but it's a general free speech issue for all Christian communicators, and that is almost certainly a desire of the new Congress and president, to see creation of federal hate-crimes legislation, which we believe would quickly become a hate-speech regulation, depriving Christian communicators of their First Amendment rights."
Parshall reported that NRB members are doing more than just playing defense.
"We've been working with Rep. Mike Pence, Republican of Indiana, on his Broadcaster Freedom Act," which would "preempt the FCC from ever reinstating the Fairness Doctrine." But he said that "liberal leadership in the House has not allowed so much as a floor vote, up or down, on that bill."
Asked whether he thought President-elect Obama would sign such a bill, Parshall noted that an Obama campaign staffer made a statement to a broadcasting trade publication that Obama is not interested in reinstating the Fairness Doctrine.
Here's a sampling of exhibitors that will participate in NRB2009, focusing on hardware and equipment suppliers. For the full list visit www.nrbconvention.org.
BGS (Broadcasters General Store)
Broadcast Software International
Clear Channel Satellite Services
Crawford Communications Inc.
Electronics Research Inc. (ERI)
Propagation Systems Inc.-PSI
RF Specialties Group
Radio Traffic.com/Radio Weather.com
Sabre Towers and Poles
Sky Angel US
Superior Broadcast Products
Trilithic "But in the same breath, he is interested in seeing a diversity of opinion on the airwaves. Well, that's an interesting coupling, because diversity of opinion on the airwaves is the justification used for creation of the Fairness Doctrine in the first place."
Parshall said that NRB broadcasters are feeling the same economic pinch as broadcasters in general, but that because many broadcast members of NRB are non-commercial stations and networks, it hits them in a slightly different fashion.
"When the public perceives that we are in perilous economic times and they pull in the belt, cut down on their giving, that has a direct impact on Christian radio and television ministries. So it's been a struggle."
He said he wouldn't term the reduction in giving a "catastrophe," but "we don't know of any radio or television ministry that hasn't taken a long, hard look at their budgets for 2009, and are routinely making cuts in staff, in equipment, in capital investment and programming, and so forth."
At this point however, NRB doesn't see this cutting making much of a dent in its convention attendance.
"I think we're encouraged at this time," said David Keith, NRB vice president of the operations division. "Based on the registration numbers and some of the early measurements we have as far as the lodging side, that seems to be tracking well based on past years.
"I think the convention itself has always been one of those must-attend events for our members. It's critical for them to be here, to participate and work on their partnerships, networking and doing business … even in this state of the economy."
The NRB convention has averaged about 6,000 attendees in recent years and will feature about 300 exhibitors this time.
Keith said one topic that has always been a key interest of NRB attendees has been donor management.
"Fund raising has always been a priority, and we're looking at that again," he said. Some of those educational sessions have been tailored specifically for "what do you do in this economy, what that may mean for a member working with their donor base."
Keeping members up to date with the latest developments on the Internet has been a focus of the convention in recent years. In addition to sessions devoted specifically to the Internet, Keith said it plays such an important part of almost everything NRB members do that the Internet has become a part of almost all conference sessions.
"I think some of the mobile media issues will continue to take the forefront, people expanding their message, and on the technical side we'll see where there have been advances in this area."
NRB has given some session time to a Tech Lab, which takes place on the show floor. In these sessions, exhibitors have the opportunity to present case studies on the use of their products. Keith said Tech Labs give attendees an opportunity to see "how some others are using their products, advancing their own ministries or media ministries."
Anne Graham Lotz
The opening session of the convention is Saturday, Feb. 7 at 7 p.m.
Speaking will be Anne Graham Lotz, second daughter of Billy and Ruth Graham. She's the founder of AnGeL Ministries, a non-profit that seeks to spread messages of biblical exposition through her speaking, tapes and books; and she produces daily radio spots called "Daily Light for Daily Living." In 2000 she launched "Just Give Me Jesus," a series of revivals for women.
Also speaking is Alistair Begg of the radio program "Truth for Life" and Parkside Church in Cleveland. He was in pastoral ministry for eight years in Scotland following graduation from The London School of Theology, and has spent 24 years at Parkside Church in suburban Cleveland.
Music at the opening session will be by the group Salvador.