words by ethel and paul

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In 1968, Ethel C. Hale and W. Paul Wharton challenged the license renewal of the Mormon complex of media in the Salt Lake City-centered broadcast market. The two local newspapers, together, gave us less coverage than did The New York Times. That lack of information encouraged rumors, extrapolation, and full-fledged fiction.

We were astounded, recently--forty years later--to receive (from a long-lost friend in a distant city) a report that claimed it was as atheist-organization members that we filed against the Mormon media. Not so.

The false stories came from a local atheist organization and its national office, AND from the Mormon Church and members. They spread stories--agreeing--that our challenge to the Mormon media was motivated by anti-religious attitudes. That is not correct. The only possible perceived link to the atheist organization was participation by Ethel’s brother-in-law, an atheist group member, whose support had nothing to do with his atheism.

Ethel had been a member of the local group affiliated with Madalyn Murray O’Hair; Paul’s ONLY connection was his attendance at a fabulous party given for Madalyn Murray O’Hair in Salt Lake City.

We had known of distortions of the facts of our case, in local gossip and the newspapers, even when we hand-delivered a press release that we had decided not to go to the U.S. Supreme Court. The newspapers joyfully covered that development, but didn’t stick to the facts.


At that time in history it would not have mattered at all who owned a broadcasting facility IF THE BROADCASTER OBEYED BROADCASTING RULES, REGULATIONS, AND LAWS. We sought to enforce then-existing regulations and laws. Never did we suggest that a church should not be a broadcaster, as Bonneville’s attorneys implied. (“Bonneville International” was and is the corporate name under which the Mormon Church owns its broadcast media.)

Our challenge was based on matters such as concentration of control of media, cross-ownership of a newspaper, concentration of control of advertising, and conglomerate ownership. (Mormon control of advertising pressured every broadcaster in this market.) We also complained the broadcasting complex was not “serving the public interest” in programming, mentioning racist prohibitions in music and other matters. In preliminaries, we noted exclusion of women and ethnic minorities from broadcasting.

The results in our case included a three to three tie at the FCC, and a decision by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. that did not find in our favor. Circuit Judge Edward Tamm, concurring, wrote that he joined the majority solely because the FCC had already begun a review of doctrines relating to concentration of control of the mass media.

Our case did achieve an important right: It established standing for private citizens to challenge the licensing of broadcasters.

THE AIRWAVES BELONG TO THE PEOPLE, we used to say. But like all the other treasures that once belonged to “The People”--THE AIRWAVES have not been protected from predatory wealth-seekers.

Ethel C. Hale and W. Paul Wharton