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Religious broadcasting is the dissemination of television and/or radio content that intentionally has religious ideas, religious experience, or religious practice as its core focus. In some countries, religious broadcasting developed primarily within the context of public service provision (as in the UK), whilst in others, it has been driven more by religious organisations themselves (as in the USA). Across Europe and in the US and Canada, religious broadcasting began in the earliest days of radio, usually with the transmission of religious worship, preaching or "talks". Over time, formats evolved to include a broad range of styles and approaches, including radio and television drama, documentary, and chat show formats, as well as more traditional devotional content. Today, many religious organizations record sermons and lectures, and have moved into distributing content on their own web-based IP channels.
Religious broadcasting can be funded commercially or through some sort of public broadcasting-style arrangement (religious broadcasters are often recognized as non-profit organizations). Donations from listeners and viewers, often tax-deductible, are solicited by some broadcasters. In the US, 42 percent of non-commercial radio stations currently have a religious format where on the other hand about 80 percent of the 2,400 Christian radio stations and 100 full-power Christian TV stations throughout the entire United States are considered non-profit.
In some countries, particularly those with an established state religion, broadcasting related to one particular religion only is allowed, or in some cases required. For example, a function of the state-owned Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation is by law "to broadcast such programmes as may promote Islamic ideology, national unity and principles of democracy, freedom equality, tolerance and social justice as enunciated by Islam..." (s. 10(1)(b)).
(The distinction between radio and television broadcasters is not rigid; broadcasters in both areas may appear in the Radio or Television section in this article.)
Religious radio stations include
Religious broadcasting in the UK was established in 1922, when the first radio sermon was transmitted by the BBC. The religious ethos of the Corporation, and the importance attributed to the place of its religious output is predominantly due to the distinctive and formative role played by the BBC's first Director-General, John Reith. Reith was the son of a Presbyterian minister. Although opposed to narrow dogmatism, he strongly believed that it was a public service duty of the BBC to actively promote religion. The pattern established by Reith in the early days, and the advisory system that he established, continued to exert a strong influence on the corporation's religious output through the war years and beyond, and eventually extend from radio into television.
British broadcasting laws prohibit religious organizations, political parties, local government, and trade unions from running national analog terrestrial stations. Some religious radio stations are available in certain areas on the MW (medium wave) or VHF (FM) wavebands; others transmit using other methods, some of them nationally (such as via digital terrestrial TV broadcasting, satellite, and cable).
Premier Radio is available on MW in the London area and also nationally on DAB. United Christian Broadcasters is available in both the London and Stoke-on-Trent areas, and nationally as well via DAB. There are several UK-based radio stations that serve a genre group or locality, such as Cross Rhythms based in Stoke-on-Trent, a contemporary music station with a local FM community radio license. Branch FM operates across West Yorkshire and is a volunteer-run community Christian radio station. Like most other local Christian stations, they also use the Internet to gain national coverage. There are other UK-based radio channels which apply for regular temporary licenses, such as Flame FM on the Wirral, Cheshire which applies for two months of local FM broadcasting per year via a Restricted Service Licence (RSL), and Refresh FM, which regularly broadcasts in Manchester for 3 or 4 weeks over the Easter period.
Also, there are religious broadcasters that transmit to the UK from outside on medium wave at night (when MW signals travel much further) by buying airtime on commercial stations such as Manx Radio (from the Isle of Man) and Trans World Radio (from Monte Carlo).
Although there are tight restrictions on religious groups setting up their own radio and TV stations, there is a legal requirement for the BBC and ITV to broadcast a certain amount of religious programming. Some commercial local radio stations carry a limited amount of religious programming, particularly in Northern Ireland and parts of Scotland.
On January 2, 1921, KDKA broadcast the church services from Calvary Episcopal Church, Pittsburgh, PA. The Rev. Lewis B. Whittemore, an associate pastor of the church, conducted the service, thus becoming the first Christian broadcaster. In 1938 the Federal Council of Churches petitioned the National Association of Broadcasters and the Federal Communications Commission formally requesting that all paid religious programs be barred from the air. The major radio networks at this time donated time to the three major divisions of organized religion in the United States: Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Judaism. Protestant programming had been placed under exclusive direction of the Council, an organization which represented about thirty denominations but less than half of American Protestantism. Overtly liberal in its theology, the Federal Council would not sponsor a conservative program such as the Lutheran Hour. Jealous of its privilege, the Council's general secretary was on record as having said in 1929, "in the future, no denomination or individual church will be able to secure any time whatever on the air unless they are willing to pay prohibitively high prices...." This was defeated by Walter A. Maier and others.
The most prominent religion on the radio in the United States is Christianity, particularly the evangelical sect. It has changed since its inception with a growing audience and different regulations. The audience for Christian radio has grown in the past twenty years and has a dispersed audience throughout the U.S.. The Moody Bible Institute was the first religious organization to use satellite radio to reach a larger audience than before. The Moody Bible Institute was also one of the first religious broadcasting networks to receive a non-commercial educational FM license from the FCC allowing them to open other stations. Religious broadcasting in the United States is mainly the province of local or regional networks which produce programming relevant to their community, and is usually heard on stations holding non-commercial educational broadcast licenses. Although religious radio began as locally owned, because of the deregulation in the 1996 Telecommunications act it has become more consolidated with local affiliates under a national radio company. Several national networks do exist, which include:
(The distinction between radio and television broadcasters is not rigid; broadcasters in both areas may appear in the Radio or Television section in this article.)
|Yes TV||Crossroads Christian Communications||Christianity (some multi-faith)||Burlington, Ontario||Nationwide||Airs a mixture of religious and general entertainment programming.
Also available over-the-air in:
|ATN Aastha TV||Asian Television Network||Hinduism||Newmarket, Ontario||Nationwide||Only available on pay television|
|ATN Punjabi 5||Asian Television Network||Sikhism||Markham, Ontario||Nationwide||Only available on pay television|
|ATN Sikh Channel||Asian Television Network||Sikhism||Ontario||Nationwide||Only available on pay television|
|Daystar Canada||World Impact Ministries||Nationwide||Only available on pay television|
|HopeTV||ZoomerMedia||Christianity||Winnipeg, Manitoba||Nationwide||Available over-the-air in Manitoba (Winnipeg) and pay television nationwide.|
|Joytv||ZoomerMedia||Multi-faith||Nationwide||Available over-the-air in British Columbia (Vancouver, Lower Mainland, and Victoria) and pay television nationwide.|
|Salt + Light Television||Salt & Light Catholic Media Foundation||Christianity (Catholicism)||Toronto, Ontario||Nationwide||Only available on pay television|
|Vertical TV||Vertical Entertainment||Christianity||Brampton, Ontario||Nationwide||Only available on pay television|
|VisionTV||ZoomerMedia||Multi-faith||Toronto, Ontario||Nationwide||Only available on pay television|
|CFSO-TV||Logan & Corey McCarthy||Christianity (Mormonism)||Cardston, Alberta||Local||Only available over-the-air; airs selected programming from BYUtv|
|CFEG-TV||Abbotsford, British Columbia||Local||Only available over-the-air|
|Miracle Channel||The Miracle Channel Association||Lethbridge, Alberta||Local||Only available over-the-air; secondary affiliate of Trinity Broadcasting Network|
In the Middle East, Christian satellite broadcaster SAT-7 operates five channels, SAT-7 ARABIC, SAT-7 PARS (Farsi), SAT-7 KIDS (Arabic), SAT-7 PLUS (Arabic) and SAT-7 TÜRK (Turkish), which broadcast in the prominent languages of the region with more than 80% of programs made by and for people of the region. SAT-7's satellite footprints reach 22 countries in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as 50 countries in Europe, with "free to air" programming. SAT7, founded in 1995, is the first and largest Christian satellite broadcast organization operating in the region. It is supported by Christian churches from a variety of denominations in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as supporters from Europe, Canada , United States , and Asia.
A function of the state-owned Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation is by law "to broadcast such programmes as may promote Islamic ideology, national unity and principles of democracy, freedom equality, tolerance and social justice as enunciated by Islam..." (s. 10(1)(b)).
Islamic broadcasters include:
In the UK, the first religious channel was Muslim TV Ahmadiyya, which launched in 1992. However, religious television is dominated by the main non-commercial terrestrial public service broadcaster, the BBC, obliged by its licence to broadcast 110 hours per year. Long-running programmes such as Songs of Praise continue to draw loyal audiences, although declining interest in devotional-style religious programmes--and sometimes erratic scheduling decisions--have taken their toll. Up until the turn of the century, the ITV channels and Channel 4 also produced religious programme content, and for many years Sunday evenings were dominated by 'the God slot'--a 70-minute diet of back-to-back religious programmes broadcast simultaneously on BBC 1 and ITV. Attempts to extend the range of formats and experiment in more populist styles, reached its zenith in the late 1960s with the light entertainment show, Stars on Sunday (Yorkshire Television, 1969-79) on ITV, reaching audiences of 15 million. The show was conceived and presented by Yorkshire Television's Head of Children's Programmes, Jess Yates and ran for a decade. Serious documentary-style religious content emerged in the 1970s, with the BBC's Everyman, and ITV's Credo programme series'. Religious broadcasting began to go into decline in the later 1970s and 1980s. The birth of the fourth public service channel in 1982 with a remit to cater for minority interests, raised great expectations followed by enormous disappointment among many who believed that Channel 4 would provide exciting now opportunities for religious broadcasting. Channel 4's first major religious programme commission caused a furore: Jesus: The Evidence (London Weekend Television for Channel 4), broadcast over the Easter period in 1984, proved to be a pivotal moment in the disintegrating relationship between the broadcasting institutions and the churches.
In 2010, the commercial public service television broadcasters de-prioritised their religious output due to commercial pressures. The 2009 Ofcom report found that religious broadcasting on public service channels was watched on average for 2.3 hours per year per viewer on the main PSB channels in 2011, 2.7 hours in 2008, reducing steadily from 3.2 in 2006 and 3.6 in 2001. In 2006, 5% of viewers found religious broadcasting to be of personal importance.
In 2017, the BBC announced that it was closing its dedicated Religious and Ethics Department and outsourcing its religious expertise and production work: a move described as 'dangerous' by at least one national newspaper, suggesting that the decision was based on a mistaken presumption that religion was 'a preoccupation of people who are old, strange or both, something of no interest to those happy enough to be neither' The BBC's decision, and the quantitative decline in religious broadcasting over several decades (as well as a growing sense that there was an absence of informed portrayals of religion in content more generally), has been implicated in what has been described as a rise in religious illiteracy. Partly in response to these concerns, there was a major internal review at the BBC during 2017 'to reassess our role and strategy in this area, and reconsider how best to deliver our public service mission'. According to the BBC's internal report in December of that year:
In practice, that means the BBC will: Raise our game across all output - Increase specialist expertise with a new Religious Affairs Team and Religion Editor in News (p19); Create networks of specialists (p27); Develop stakeholder relations (p27); Reach as many people as possible - Landmark series and programmes (p21); Cross-genre commissions (p16), A 'Year of Beliefs' in 2019 (p23); Content and social media aimed at a next generation audience (p23); Portray the diversity of beliefs and society - Diversify our range of contributors (p14); Increase coverage of religious events (p15); Enhance portrayal in mainstream programming (p17); Help people understand their values and decisions - Innovative content that works across genres (p17); Innovative online services that include archive content that is still relevant (p25)
The BBC has yet to unveil details of plans for its 2019 'Year of Beliefs'.
Dedicated religious channels are relatively new, and transmit via direct-to-home satellite, some, are streamed live via the Internet or, like TBN, broadcast 24 hours on terrestrial Freeview. Dedicated religious channels available include:
In the UK, Vision TV UK is available to viewers with Religious channels: Revelation TV, Firstlight, Good News TV, Dunamis TV, and Daystar TV. Also available are 3ABN television networks: 3ABN, 3ABN Latino, 3ABN Proclaim!, 3ABN Dare to Dream, 3ABN Français, 3ABN Russia, 3ABN Kids, and 3ABN Praise Him Music.
Religious television stations in the United States experienced growth in the 1990s, the number of faith-based T.V. stations alone has tripled. The United States government does not regulate these networks to the same extent as it does commercial outlets, as the Free Exercise Clause limits how much the government can interfere in evangelism. Religious television is widely used by evangelical Christian groups, but other religions using television broadcasting is also growing. The audience for religious television is still mainly white, middle-class, evangelicals but, that is also changing as there is an increase in young Catholic viewers and Spanish-language religious television. There has also been a growth in the number and power of television preachers in the United States, particularly evangelical preachers, also known as televangelists.
In the United States, Christian organizations are by far the most widespread compared with other religions, with upwards of 1,600 television and radio stations across the country (not necessarily counting broadcast translators, though because many outlets have low power and repeat national telecasts, the difference is often hard to define).
Christian television outlets in the U.S. usually broadcast in the UHF band. While there are many religious content providers for religious and faith-based television, there are few nationally recognized non-commercial television networks--funded by soliciting donations--such as Daystar Television Network (operated by Marcus Lamb and Joni Lamb) and Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) (operated by Paul Crouch and Jan Crouch). Unlike the larger religious network providers available to the mass public, many smaller religious organizations have a presence on cable television systems, either with their own channels (such as the 3ABN service) or by transmissions on public-access television common for local congregations) or leased access channels. Religious programs are sometimes also transmitted on Sunday mornings by general commercial broadcasters not dedicated to religious programming. Religious broadcasters in the U.S. include:
The UK equivalent of the NRB is the Christian Broadcasting Council, but affiliation is much less common. Additionally in the UK is the Church and Media Network, formed in 2009 as a successor to the Churches' Media Council, which states that it seeks to be a bridge between the media and the Christian community.
Christian broadcasters (but not other religions) in the U.S. are organized through the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) organization.
Financially, US channels tend to fare a lot better than UK based ones. The American concept of asking viewers to donate money to a channel to keep it going on air is considered more culturally acceptable than in the UK; as a result more money is raised this way. However this has become more contentious as television preachers have been accused of corruption and soliciting donations for their own personal use. There used to be no advertising revenue model - the traditional method of running commercial TV in the UK - that worked for religious TV channels. The UK government's Broadcasting Act 1990 allowed ownership of broadcasting licences by religious organisations and their officers and those who controlled them in some circumstances; this had previously not been allowed.
Religious channels aimed at a UK audience could get around this previous restriction by basing themselves offshore, often in a European country that permits asking viewers for money on air. Stations may appear to be based in the UK, but actually broadcast from another country. However Ofcom since lifted the restriction, and channels with UK licences can now ask for funds on air.
The other primary method for raising funds to run religious channels is to accept paid advertising. Traveling preachers and large churches and ministries often set up a TV department filming what they do; they then buy slots on TV channels to show their programmes. Often the same programme from an organization is shown on several channels at different times as they buy slots. The vast majority of organizations which do this are US-based. In the UK this tends to make Christian TV channels appear to be US-based, as most material originates there. Some UK TV channels have invested in making programmes to complement advertising, most notably GOD TV and Revelation TV.