Office of Communications, Inc.

UCC Media Justice Update

HEROES Act a Victory for the Right2Connect!

The new HEROES Act released today, H.R. 6800, contains an incredible commitment to the communications rights of all people. The consumer protection and telecommunications provisions championed by Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Pallone recognize that the right of all people in the U.S. to connect with each other during the novel coronavirus pandemic is not only a matter of mental health and economic survival, it is a matter of life and death. 

If all people, including low-income people, can afford high quality broadband, their lives can continue, to some degree, through personal connections, education, jobs, obtaining access to emergency benefits while they shelter in place to stop the spread of the virus.  If frontline low-income workers can rely on their mobile phones, they can fill grocery orders, keep our hospitals clean and continue to act as our emergency responders in this time of need.  If families can reach their incarcerated loved ones at fair rates, they can monitor their health and welfare and ensure they receive access to essential care given the horrific spread of COVID-19 among people in jail, prison or detention.  The HERO Act's communications provisions are essential for meeting these emergency needs. 


These proposals, combined with provisions that end cut-offs of Internet services, codify the Federal Communications Commission Keep Americans Connected Pledge and establish limits on price gouging make this legislation an impressive package that will establish secure rights to affordable communications. Congress should move quickly to adopt them into law.


"Congress should move quickly to adopt the communications provisions of the HEROES Act into law," said Cheryl A. Leanza, UCC OC Inc.'s policy advisor, "being without the Internet right now is not just a digital divide, it is a digital chasm and life and death hangs in the balance. If adopted, these proposals would ensure that all people, no matter their income level or status will have the digital tools they need to participate safely in civic and economic life."


To read more about the #right2connect, see The Right to Connect: Life or Death Right Now.

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Strong Prison Phone Legislation Introduced by Rep. Rush

The United Church of Christ's media justice ministry is very pleased to see long-time champion Representative Bobby Rush's new legislation addressing the predatory costs of communicating with incarcerated people, the Martha Wright Prison Phone Justice Act, H.R. 6389. Mr. Rush has been a leader on this issue since the 2000s. His new legislation immediately sets significantly improved rates for voice calls and clearly establishes federal jurisdiction to limit predatory rates for local, intra-state communications as well as fees of all kinds. It is future-proof, leaving no technological loopholes. It will enable the Federal Communications Commission to pick up where it left off and protect families, clergy, and loved ones from unjust and unreasonable rates. 


"Congratulations to Representative Rush. We urge the House Energy & Commerce Committee to quickly hold hearings and move to markup on this critical legislation," said Earl Williams, OC Inc.'s board chair. "This bill, along with Senator Duckworth's bi-partisan bill in the Senate, increases the hope of incarcerated people and their families that they will finally gain the same consumer protections as all people in the U.S."


Cheryl A. Leanza, OC Inc.'s policy advisor said, "In this time when so many families, clergy and friends are not permitted to visit their incarcerated loved ones during the COVID-19 epidemic, just and reasonable rates to communicate are more important than ever. Incarcerated people are facing crowded conditions and potentially insufficient health care. Without communication with the outside, it is impossible to monitor their safety."

UCC's media justice ministry is also currently encouraging everyone to join the MediaJustice campaign to ask the Federal Communications Commission to act immediately to secure relief for incarcerated people and their families.

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Affordable Communications for Low-Income People Under Threat -- AGAIN

One of our main advocacy tasks at OC Inc. is working with our allies to protect and enhance the incredible Lifeline program, which offers a subsidy to low-income households who qualify.  In some cases, the $9.25 monthly subsidy is enough to pay for a free mobile phone. 

Unfortunately the current Federal Communications Commission has set forth a series of unhelpful and paternalistic proposals that would harm Lifeline and make it more difficult for eligible families to use it.  We joined with the National Consumer Law Center to file comments last month and yesterday with our allies under the banner of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights to push back against these destructive ideas.  At least we are gratified to know that these proposals received almost no support in the record before the FCC.  The FCC should not be able to adopt these ideas, but the threat of their implementation is destabilizing the program and the previous decisions the FCC adopted are hurting the chances for families to get access to affordable communications.

Learn more and join the coalition's efforts at

Since a 1997 General Synod resolution, the United Church of Christ has formally recognized that we need to ensure we do not become a society divided between "information rich" and "information poor," which leaves struggling people without the tools to succeed in modern society.   

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Martin Luther King, Jr. and UCC Media Justice - 60 Years Later

This weekend we celebrate the leadership and sacrifice of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The United Church of Christ has so many proud moments in its legacy working for the U.S. civil rights movement -- including the time a UCC leader met with Dr. King and inspired much of the early media justice movement. The UCC's media justice ministry, called the Office of Communication, Inc., was created after the UCC's original Communications Director, Dr. Everett C. Parker, met with Dr. King. As we get ready to celebrate Dr. King, we're sharing the UCC-made documentary, OC Inc., The Untold Story, as a resource for UCC churches to learn more about this unique UCC connection to MLK's legacy (available in the full 22 minutes or a 6-minute preview.)

Because OC Inc. is celebrating its 60th anniversary, Brian Lapis, one of OC Inc.'s board members, recently took a moment to reflect on his history with OC Inc.  He says:

I remember the moment when my love for the United Church of Christ and my love for the broadcast industry intersected. I was a student at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications when I opened up my communications law and ethics textbook, and there it was: United Church of Christ vs. Federal Communications Commission. The UCC won this case against insurmountable odds, to unseat racist owners from WLBT-TV and to make owners of all broadcast stations accountable to the communities they serve. As Kay Mills describes it in her 2004 book, Changing Channels, this was 'the civil rights case that transformed television.'

The work leading up to those famous court cases came from a meeting in which Dr. King met with Dr. Parker. "Can you do something about the TV stations in the south?" said Dr. King in response Dr. Parker's question about how he could help. And thus, a movement was born. Dr. Parker, whose birthday is January 17th, has been called the "the founder of the citizen movement in broadcasting."

As Brian explained, "while the UCC's work in media justice is not always well known in our churches, it is famous (and at times, relied upon) in the world of media advocacy. The UCC and OC Inc. are household names in the halls of the Federal Communications Commission and justice advocates." 

Take this weekend to learn more about the unique role of the UCC in media justice, watch the 20-minute documentary The Untold Story:

UCC's media justice work continues today -- just last September UCC OC Inc. was a critical part of a court victory case bolstering citizen standing and ownership by women and people of color in broadcasting. We're campaigning to end predatory pricing to communicate with incarcerated people, working to ensure a free and open Internet for all and one that does not spread hate speech. And don't miss the inspirational remarks by the UCC's own Rev. Julian DeShazier from this October's annual Parker Lecture.

Remember that every time you use your TV, radio, phone or internet service, the UCC's media justice work is impacting you!

If you want help support this work, please consider supporting this effective ministry and celebrating of sixty years of this work, with a contribution to our $60 for 60 Campaign

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37th Annual Parker Lecture Honorees Underscore the Importance of “Remembering Our Stories”

Press Contact: Cheryl Leanza
Cell: 202-904-2168


Three media justice advocates stressed the importance of retelling stories—and telling them accurately—at the 37th Annual Everett C. Parker Ethics in Telecommunications Lecture and Awards Breakfast today in Washington, DC, sponsored by the United Church of Christ’s media justice ministry, the Office of Communication, Inc.

The Rev. Julian DeShazier, senior pastor of University Church in Chicago and the Emmy Award-winning hip-hop artist J.Kwest, brought the full range of his skills to his Parker Lecture address. To underscore his theme, he began with a rap:

“. . . Is Chicago making
A different kind of statement, you looking at me

Like please stop rapping! So I can hear what you’re saying

American way, to reject another language
American angst, try to HEAR what I’m saying

I’m saying THAT DAY won’t come, ‘til we make it . . .” 

DeShazier related a parable of the Akan people of Ghana about “Sankofa,” a bird who struck out from her community until she was bullied by “Big Bird,” and returned home, regretting that she had ever left. But then her village told her, “Don’t forget us this time. Don’t forget who are you are.” With her confidence renewed, she returned to confront Big Bird and found that he was gone.

The lesson, DeShazier said, is “you can’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been.” Sankofa, he said, “reminds us that the past and future are tied together, that destiny is not only a matter of will but of knowing where you and your people have been, what that creates in us. Identity formed through the past, which means the story must be told, told well, and told rightly. 

“Sankofa is what reminds embattled people, forgotten people, disinherited people who traverse a sky full of Big Birds – the Big Bird of xenophobia, the Big Bird of poverty, the Big Bird of corporatized education, militarized peacekeeping – Big Bird does not want you to have your story, because with your story comes your identity and with an anchored sense of being no thing and no one can get in your way.

“Sankofa is our reminder that stories carry within them the power to make people and the power to remove them: the power of life and death.”

DeShazier’s message was underscored by the stories told by those who were recognized with awards at this year’s event.

Cayden Mak, executive director of 18 Million Rising, an online organization that builds community in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, received the Everett C. Parker Award in recognition of his work in support of greater public access to affordable and open broadband technologies. Mak described how as a queer youth, “the Internet saved by life.” Growing up feeling “isolated and weird,” the Internet enabled him to “find people like me.”

But, he noted, “the social web has become a lot less social.” Before “the ideology,” he said, it embraced “the search for belonging.” But he asserted that he still believed “we can have an Internet built on care,” and a technology that is “expansive not expensive.”

Sarah Macharia, global coordinator of the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP), traveled from Kenya to accept the Donald H. McGannon Award on behalf of her organization. The McGannon award recognizes special contributions in advancing the role of women and persons of color in the media; the GMMP is the longest and largest longitudinal study of women in the media—both their presence and how they are covered—in the world. The project’s next study, conducted at five-year intervals, will take place in 2020 and is expected to involve volunteers in 130 companies.

Macharia described how the project began in 1995, monitoring the media in 70 countries. The idea “was not an idle curiosity but came out of frustration over the media’s seeming lack of respect for the integrity and dignity of women the world over.”

“Think of the stream that becomes a river as tributaries merge into it, bringing life to the land through which it crosses,” she said.  “So it is with the GMMP, as more countries and tens of thousands of volunteers have joined in.” The project is “three things in one: It is a research project, it is an action network and it is an activist movement.”

Macharia noted that the project had determined that “out of every four people seen, heard or read about in the mainstream news media globally, only one is a woman. Based on the trends, we forecast it will take at least three quarters of a century to reach parity.”  The problem, she said, was “more or less identical the world over, whether in the USA, in Uruguay or in Uganda.”

The event celebrated the 60th anniversary of OC Inc. Participants recalled how media monitoring was important to the early work of the Rev. Parker, who founded OC Inc. in 1959. Parker organized volunteers to monitor television stations in the Deep South to demonstrate that they were failing to cover the local African-American community. In 1963, he filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission that ultimately stripped WLBT-TV in Jackson, Miss., of its broadcast license.The court case also established the principle that the public could participate in matters before the agency, a principle that OC Inc. helped successfully defend, with other advocacy partners, in a federal appeals court case this past year.

OC Inc. created the Parker Lecture in 1983 to recognize its founder’s pioneering work as an advocate for the public’s rights in broadcasting.


About the United Church of Christ: The United Church of Christ is a mainline Protestant denomination comprised of nearly 900,000 members and 5,000 congregations nationwide. Headquartered in Cleveland, the UCC is a church of many firsts, including the first mainline denomination to ordain a woman, the first to ordain an openly gay man and the first predominantly white denomination to ordain an African American. The UCC and its members are tireless advocates for such social issues as immigration reform, racial equality, LGBT rights, marriage equality, environmental protection and economic justice. The Parker Lecture is the only lecture in the country to examine telecommunications in the digital age from an ethical perspective. More information is available at

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