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RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

The Battle for the Airwaves of Britain

By Dan Wooding
Assist News Service

CBN.com -- NASHVILLE, TN (ANS) -- American religious broadcasters have been asked to pray for the new Battle of Britain - freedom of the airwaves to Christian broadcasting in the UK. The plea was made by Peter Kerridge, Managing Director of Premier Radio.

Kerridge said that "today we need not only the help of our supporters in the UK, we need your help, and the help of your listeners and constituents."

He went on to say, "Most of all, we need prayer support. We know that we're not just fighting against the British authorities, but actually against much more, and the only way in which we can combat this is by prayer.

"You and your listeners could also support us financially, which would be a tremendous blessing to the cause of Christian radio in Great Britain."

Kerridge began his talk by saying that until the Broadcasting Act of 1990, it was illegal for Christians to even advertise let along broadcast on radio and TV.

"But then a number of Christians lobbied to change that," he said. "Premier launched on June 10th 1995 as the first and only Christian terrestrial station in the UK. The launch party attracted thousands of people - the event had been longed for and prayed over for a long time. Many Churches and individuals had given sacrificially to bring Premier into being, and had dreamed about what it would be like to have a Christian radio station. We estimated that over 1/4 million people tuned in over that first weekend.

"Unfortunately it became clear that, just 5 months after the launch, the station was not attracting listeners, advertisers or adequate funding. All the money invested in Premier when it began had been exhausted, and the station had borrowings of 1/4 million, which were growing by 100,000 a month. The audience reach was below 1%, having been over 2% at launch. The trustees initiated a complete change of the management team, which included initiating a project to stabilize the financial position.

"Programming was key to the rehabilitation of the station and an early decision was taken to drop secular music and features and to focus on the only distinctive content possible to the station in the crowded London radio market - a consistent focus on Christianity. The whole of 1996 was a struggle - the downsizing, the new music and speech content and the 'stretched to the limit' financial situation."

Kerridge said that although marketing resources have always been limited, Premier does have the advantage of a loyal and enthusiastic audience of whom over 90% describe themselves as regular churchgoers.

"Premier has an exceptionally loyal audience - not only do they listen for 11 hours per week but 7% of them also make gifts to Christian Media Trust, who own Premier," he continued.

"If you were to walk into Premier today, you would get a very different story from the bleak one of seven years ago. The station has grown to such an extent that around 400,000 people tune in every week - 220,000 listen on medium wave, 65,000 on Sky digital, 8,000 via the Internet, and approximately 30,00 via cable. Premier is the place they turn to for Christian news, worship, information, teaching and spiritual encouragement. We also broadcast over the web through www.premier.org.uk. We publish 5 magazines, 4 websites and operate a telephone help line, Lifeline, which receives approximately 1,400 calls per week and is one of the top 10 help lines in the UK."

Christian Radio May Die

He said that in September, 2001, Premier's license to broadcast came up for renewal.

"We re-applied for the license in January 2002 amid fears that there appeared to be a trend towards multi-faith broadcasting at the time," said Kerridge. "In practical terms, this would have meant Premier being forced to become a station which broadcasted a number of religious points of view, with for example, an Islamic show from 10am 11am, and then a Christian programme the following hour, and so on. This caused a lot of contention not only amongst the Christians in the UK, but also members of other faiths, and at Easter, we launched a 'Christian Radio May Die' petition campaign, which allowed our regulators and the government to realize the consequences of discontinuing our license. The Petition campaign raised a lot of awareness, both from Christians and non-Christians, and 140,000 showed their support - unfortunately we also came to the attention of another group who were less enthusiastic.

"In the middle of our preparations on the re-application document, the Radio Authority received several complaints about us by an organization called the Mysticism and Occult Federation (MOF). This was a problem in two ways - firstly the nature and timing of their complaints meant that the chances of the license being re-awarded to us were notably slimmer, and secondly, the scale of the campaign they launched against us amongst the occult community threatened Premier spiritually. The MOF were unhappy about a number of broadcasts on Premier including sermons by Chuck Swindoll, Michael Youseff and Adrian Rodgers.

"The Radio Authority, who enforces the broadcasting code, judged that these broadcasts were in breach of a section of the code that refers to the denigration of other faiths; the Authority upheld the complaints of the MOF, because they claimed that other faiths, including their own had been abused. We were given a warning judgment and were asked to review our output. We accepted the conclusions of our regulator and Premier's output was amended accordingly. This took, and still takes a great deal of time, money and effort, as it means staff listening to and editing every minute of broadcasting before it is transmitted.

"The whole re-licensing campaign was the beginning of a learning curve that would prepare us for the times ahead. It heightened our awareness of the need to be culturally sensitive whilst proclaiming the supremacy of Christ without compromise - but also without needlessly offending other faith groups. The campaign also brought attention to the dispute surrounding the right of reply - the spotlight was suddenly very much on the division between faiths, and this was also brought to light with September 11th.

"The issue of denigration regarding another's faith position is a matter of huge concern in the UK. As a Christian broadcaster we walk a fine line as we endeavor to uphold the truths of the gospel whilst respecting others who may not share our beliefs. The format of Christian speech radio is particularly problematic in this regard. A sermon is not a debate, an interview - both of which gives opportunities for a different point of view.

"The issue comes with the right to reply to arguments against a person's faith expressed in the context of a sermon - put simply, if we aired a view that differed from someone else's, they have the right to broadcast their view in reply on Premier. For example a sermon criticizing witchcraft explicitly will (whose followers are recognized as holding a legitimate belief system), call for a right of reply on the station. So we are left with a question; Do we as a Christian broadcaster wish to offer broadcast time to the occult?

"This is the broadcasting regime we operate under and, I would suggest, could, in some form or other, be coming to the U.S. You have freedom of speech - but what happens when freedoms collide?"

Kerridge said that thankfully, the Radio Authority re-awarded the license to Premier in March 2002, and a short while afterwards removed the warning judgment that had been hanging over them as a result of the complaints by the MOF. Then in September Premier moved offices, and this as well as the relicensing, gave them the opportunity to "re-brand" and launch a new Premier with a greater emphasis on testimonies and Christian commentary on the news, more teaching, and more worship music.

New Challenge

"We entered 2003 with a new vision to take Christian radio stations to the rest of the United Kingdom and immediately in the New Year we were faced with a new challenge - The Communications Bill of 2003 states that religious people or organizations are the only group who are not permitted by right to hold broadcasting licenses, i.e., 'You are a disqualified person who may be allowed a license at the discretion of the authorities', which is our position today," he said. "So under this proposed law, you can apply to own a station by right if you're the publisher of Playboy but not if you're Billy Graham. We believe we must resist this law, and fight not only to stay on the air in London, but also to maintain our vision to spread the Gospel over the rest of the UK. As Jesus said in Matthew chapter 10, we need to be 'as wise as serpents, as harmless as doves.'

"It's very much a case of David and Goliath - as a small and relatively young radio station, we are faced with a seemingly immovable governmental authority. On the other hand, the British church sees us as an invaluable communication tool; ministry to the Church, as well as an outreach to unbelievers. We have a battle ahead, and not much time to plead our case and influence this legislation. This Bill will likely be voted on in Parliament by March. We are continuing in our plans to launch new stations across the UK, mobilizing Christians, influencing public opinion and responding to the demand for Christian radio in every area of the country.

"We work closely with the church and have seen numerous examples of church growth from people who partner with us. Our mandate is to be a Christian voice in the public arena; a Christian conscience in an increasingly secular and multi-faith society."

Kerridge said that KMA of Dallas, Texas, had helped produce a brochure that explains more about this battle with the British Government and has also produced a CD with 30 second PSA spots so US listeners "can pray and support us as God may lead them."

Although Premier Radio is the only station in the UK with a license to broadcast over the airwaves of the country, UCB Europe, based in Stoke-on-Trent also broadcasts Christian programming via satellite and the Internet with four channels to the UK and much of Western Europe. UCB Europe is part of UCB International, which is headquartered in Auckland, New Zealand.


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Assist News Service is brought to you in part by Open Doors USA, a ministry that has served the Suffering Church around the world for nearly 50 years. You can get more information by logging onto their website at www.opendoorsusa.org

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