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Changing the channel

The FCC still hasn't offered a ruling on the sale of WMFE-TV's license to a Christian broadcasting company

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June 30, 2011, was a dark day for many Central Florida PBS fans. That’s the day that WMFE-TV Channel 24, which used to be the place Central Florida went to catch Sesame Street, Antiques Roadshow and other public television favorites, went off the air. WMFE had announced just two months earlier that it was leaving the PBS system and entering into an agreement to sell the station’s license for $3 million to a group called Community Educators of Orlando. Community Educators said it would run the station “primarily to serve the educational needs of the community,” as the FCC’s license for noncommercial educational TV stations, such as Channel 24, dictates.

Nine months later, though, Channel 24 is still sending out a signal, but it's only airing V-me, a public television service that caters to Spanish speakers, from 6 a.m. to midnight. For airing V-me, WMFE is entitled to receive $40,000 a month in federal grant money from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Brighthouse subscribers will often see a public service message announcing on their channel guides telling them that local PBS programming has moved over to WUCF-TV Channel 1 (a partnership between Brevard Community College and the University of Central Florida).

The FCC still hasn’t approved the sale of the TV station’s license to Community Educators of Orlando, which turned out to be an arm of Daystar Television Networks, a Bedford, Texas-based Christian broadcaster committed solely to – in its own words – “reach souls with the good news of Jesus Christ.” If the sale is approved, Channel 24 will become the fourth Christian broadcasting station in the market.

When the community got wind of the fact that the buyer of WMFE was not going to be another PBS affiliate, many protested. According to documents filed on the FCC’s website, the agency received 538 comments, letters and petitions on the sale of Channel 24 to Daystar – the vast majority opposed the sale.

“Daystar misrepresented itself as an educational group named ‘Community Educators of Orlando,’” wrote Elizabeth Tuura of Orlando in a May 2011 letter to Sen. Bill Nelson, which was added to the FCC’s vast list of complaints concerning the transfer. “Make no mistake: This is a church … none of the large donors knew it was up for sale.”

In a letter dated Dec. 7, 2011, from Michael Perko, the head of the FCC Media Bureau’s Office of Communications and Industry Information, to U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant, a Texas Republican whose district includes Daystar’s headquarters, it was stated that the FCC had “recently completed a preliminary evaluation of the WMFE-TV assignment application … as well as the related informal objections,” and “it was necessary to obtain additional information” before making a final judgment on the transfer.

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