NCC’s Longtime TV Watcher Leaves Post : Church Council’s William Fore Fought for Re-Regulating Networks

From Religious News Service

The Rev. William F. Fore has left the National Council of Churches after 25 years as head of its Communication Commission but with lingering concerns about the lack of “serious” national television and doubts about a new “mainline” interfaith TV network.

Although he officially ended his duties Dec. 31, he was to be in Washington this month for one more round in the battle he has waged to persuade the government to apply regulations to the TV industry once again.

Fore believes that some of the regulations lifted in 1980 must be reapplied to deal with such matters as protecting serious journalism on TV and assuring the inclusion of children’s programming in the networks’ weekly schedules.

Fore, 60, who grew up in Beverly Hills and graduated from Occidental College, became a much-quoted figure during the 1987-88 TV evangelist scandals. His book, “Television and Religion: The Shaping of Faith, Values and Culture,” was published by Augsburg Press only a month after the Jim Bakker scandal first hit the nation’s front pages in March, 1987.


Returning to Campus

“In over a year I gave more than 150 radio, TV and press interviews, averaging five a week,” Fore said. “I could make a career out of being an authority on the electronic church.” (But in fact, he returns this month to one of his alma maters, Yale Divinity School, to lecture on communication and help devise a curriculum that will include forms of communication other than preaching.)

The thesis of the Fore book is that TV is usurping the role of religion in society today, providing a value system and world view for more people than are reached by organized churches. The book achieved wide acceptance among both liberal and conservative church people and among those in the television industry, Fore said.

He has reservations about VISN, an ambitious new interfaith coalition of mainline denominations providing television programs with religious and ethical content to cable networks. (Although VISN started officially last September, in Southern California it so far is seen only on a cable system in Oxnard, according to the Latter-Day Sentinel.)

Doubts Success

“I hope they succeed,” he said, “but it is very unlikely to be a commercial success because it has to have over 15 million homes watching. Given the competition from other religious and special-interest programs, they are unlikely to get that.”

Fore also believes “it’s a mistake to have a single religious channel because that tends to relegate all religious TV to a ghetto.”

“We shouldn’t give up the public service requirement for broadcasters--their responsibility to meet the community’s need for news, children’s programs and an expression of diverse views. If we give up the basic principle that everyone has a right to speak and be heard, we’ll give up on democracy in this country,” he said.

He believes that deregulation is to blame for the three major U.S. networks dropping religious programming from their schedules, leaving cable the only option for religious material.

Deregulation ‘Disaster’

“It’s been a disaster,” he said of deregulation. Since 1980 when the Federal Communication Commission “washed its hands of regulating what broadcasters do,” there has been less news, and the news that is broadcast must be entertainment, he said. There is almost no serious investigative reporting, no children’s TV Monday through Friday and far more commercials, he said. Stations are “bought and sold like speculation in gold and silver, instead of being an investment in the community and its people,” Fore said.

One of his last efforts at the National Council of Churches has been to arrange for an interfaith delegation to go to Washington to plead with the heads of House and Senate subcommittees on communications to re-regulate the broadcast industry. The delegation, including Jewish and Roman Catholic representatives, will press particularly for children’s programming and adequate funds for public broadcasting. He added that the FCC can protect the First Amendment rights of viewers without impinging on the rights of broadcasters.

U.S. Reps. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) have said they are determined to bring about some re-regulation of broadcasting as soon as possible, Fore said.

“We’re not lobbying for the special interest of the church,” he said. “We’re expressing our concern for the good of the country,” which is one role the churches should be playing.

Fore will also be busy writing and serving as president of the World Assn. for Christian Communication. “I’ll be spending almost full time, helping prepare for its international congress, which takes place in Manila in October,” he said.

Fore was born in Texas in 1928 and moved to California three years later. His father worked for 20th-Century Fox in the film-loading department and the younger Fore delivered canisters of film while attending Beverly Hills High School.

He attended Occidental College and was the first American exchange student to study a year in Egypt, getting a bachelor’s degree in sociology at American University in Cairo. Returning home, he added a second bachelor’s from Occidental and a theological degree from Yale Divinity School, where he took a course in TV production. In 1972 he added a doctorate in education and communication from Columbia University.

A United Methodist minister, Fore transformed the “Lantern Slide Department” at the Methodist Board of Missions into the Visual Education Department, producing dozens of filmstrips and 20 films on mission subjects. Author of more than 100 articles, his books include “South Americans All,” “Communication for Churchmen” and “Image and Impact.”

His National Council of Churches service began in 1964 as executive director of the old Broadcasting and Film Commission. Since 1973, he has been assistant general secretary of the council and head of the Communications Commission.

Last September, Fore gave notice he would leave the National Council. Asked if he resigned this post because of budget cuts affecting much of the council, Fore replied that the commission’s 1989 budget would exceed that of 1988. Most of the income is from member denominations.

“Because we keep them involved in determining our program, they believe in what we are doing,” he said. Non-NCC denominations also cooperate with the commission. Those denominations include the Southern Baptist Convention, Seventh-day Adventists, Missouri Synod Lutherans, Unitarian Universalists and United Church of Canada.

“A lot of NCC units have lost funding over the years because they ignored the constituency,” the communications executive said.

Fore said he expects that the commission will be merged with the News and Information Department and a new associate general secretary will be named.