Everett C. Parker

Everett Parker

Everett Parker

Rev. Dr. Everett C. Parker, Life Member of RCC, passed away early in the morning on September 17, 2015 at the age of 102. He was the first director of Communications in 1957 for the newly-formed United Church of Christ. In that role he founded the United Church of Christ, Office of Communication, Inc., a media reform and accountability ministry with a civil rights agenda, that worked to improve the coverage and employment of women and people of color in broadcasting and other media.

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Following is an excerpt from an oral history under production by J. Martin Bailey (New York RCC chapter member), George Conklin (RCC member at large) and William Winslow (New York RCC chapter member).

Everett Parker is one of only a handful of church leaders still living who commanded a position of leadership in the 1957 birth of the United Church of Christ and continues to be a force even today. But Parker is unique in his own right for his contributions to the public good. His reputation as an advocate for the public's rights in broadcasting is forever linked to his successful legal challenge to deny the license renewal of WLBT-TV, Jackson, Miss. In a landmark decision in 1966, a federal circuit court ruled that citizen groups have standing (the right to be heard and appeal to the courts) before government regulatory agencies.

One warm summer morning in 1962, WLBT viewers of the Today show in Jackson were startled to see the face of future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall flicker briefly on the screen and then disappear. A message appeared blaming transmission trouble for the loss. In truth, the station had deliberately cut the interview with the then legal counsel to the NAACP. For years the only blacks seen on Mississippi TV were in police custody, but this particular incident galvanized black leaders to seek help getting better treatment from TV stations in the state. They appealed to Parker, then head of the Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ in New York City.

They picked the right man. Armed with the knowledge that a broadcast licensee is required to serve its viewers in the public interest, convenience or necessity, he assembled a team in Jackson to monitor a composite week of the station programming to see if it complied. It didn't.

In 1963 the UCC filed a "petition to deny [license] renewal" with the FCC, initiating a process that had far-reaching consequences in U.S. broadcasting. The FCC's initial response to the petition was to rule that neither the United Church of Christ nor local citizens had "legal" standing to participate in its renewal proceedings. The UCC appealed, and in 1966, Warren Berger, than a Federal appeals court judge, granted such standing to the UCC, and to citizens in general. After a hearing, the FCC renewed WLBT's license, resulting in another appeal by the UCC. Berger declared the FCC's record "beyond repair" and revoked the station's license.

Based on this new right to participate in license proceedings, Parker's office began to work with other reform and citizens' groups to monitor broadcast performance on a number of issues, including employment discrimination and fairness. In 1967, the office's petition to the FCC dealing with employment issues lead to the Commission's adoption of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) rules for broadcasting. In 1968, it participated as a "friend of the court" in the landmark Red Lion case, which confirmed and expanded the Fairness Doctrine.

Stations suddenly began paying attention to serving their entire constituency, particularly people of color. Buoyed by the court decision, groups in hundreds of communities, helped by the church office, negotiated with stations for better programs and news coverage.

For a complete biography of Everett Parker, visit the Museum of Broadcast Communication web site.

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