Trinity Broadcasting Network beams gospel shows into non-Christian world

The world’s largest religious broadcasting network just got a whole lot bigger, striking a deal to beam nonstop Christian television shows into a wide global slice of the most populated — and least Christian — places on earth.

Billions of viewers in largely Hindu India, Muslim Indonesia, Buddhist/Confucian/Taoist China and elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific Rim can now turn on their TVs to find Trinity Broadcasting Network‘s Christian cartoons and talk shows, Christian extreme sports shows and sermons, Christian music videos and variety shows. Many of the music programs are taped in TBN’s Hendersonville studios.

But TBN’s month-old venture into Asian television evangelism could prove a prickly one for the Los Angeles-based network.

Evangelical Christians have already criticized TBN’s suggestions that shows tone down their anti-Muslim rhetoric for overseas viewers.

TBN: The Blasphemy Network

Trintiy Broadcasting Network (TBN), led by founders Paul and Jan Crouch, is the world’s largest religious TV network. It claims to be a Christian ministry.

However, while some legitimate ministries and teachers (those who adhere to the orthodox teachings and practices of historical Christianity) appear on TBN, the network promotes such an incredible amount of heretical material – including extremist Word-Faith teachings – that it is often referred to as “The Blasphemy Network.”

Other critics say the militantly Christian discourse of some of the network’s most prominent on-air personalities — Pat Robertson, for example — risks inflaming public sentiment against the United States.

For the network, it’s a natural next step to extend the good news of the Gospel further into a worldwide TV-hungry market, which has shown a tremendous appetite for American television fare such CSI Miami (currently the top-rated TV show on the planet), Baywatch (formerly No. 1) and Desperate Housewives (now No. 3).

“It’s a global market, and you’re either in the market or you’re not,” said Colby May, the network’s Washington, D.C.-based communications counsel. “Obviously Baywatch, ER or whatever — they’re in the market. And if we’re not there, then there’s no alternative.”

TBN will broadcast programs via satellite into the “10-40 window” whose latitude and longitude designations encompass a number of Asian nations, including Japan, Mongolia, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia, as well as parts of Eastern Europe. Many areas in the window are difficult for Western missionaries to enter.

The network has already been broadcasting to dozens of countries.

In Asia, some programs will be dubbed into other languages, while others will be broadcast in English. May says the network hopes eventually to create original shows tailored to the new markets, particularly in Chinese.

In its Asia expansion, the network’s shows will be available for free and accessible to most any viewer turning on a TV, not just to cable subscribers.

Because it won’t use government-controlled airways, it won’t be subject to government censorship.

Middle Tennessee State University engineering professor Saleh Sbenaty, an expert in satellite broadcast technology, said that in the parts of the world where TBN is transmitting, most people who own a TV require the type of satellite system that will automatically offer TBN to get any reception at all.

“People in Asia, India, Pakistan and Indonesia depend mostly on satellite transmissions and it’s mostly poor people who are getting a limited variety of programming,” Sbenaty said. “They will be the ones to get TBN’s shows.”

Sbenaty, who is also a counselor to Muslim students on campus, said he was concerned about the impact of TBN’s programs in the Muslim world.

“I think programming like this, which I would say is viewed as extremist even in the United States, people like Pat Robertson, will lead to more misunderstanding between cultures and could provoke more hatred and violence.”

Robertson, a Baptist and the host of the TBN-broadcasted The 700 Club, is known for his controversial statements about the world’s religions and people. Robertson has called Hinduism “demonic” and described the Muslim prophet, Muhammad, as an “absolute wide-eyed fanatic €¦ a robber and brigand.”

Day, the TBN spokesman, said the network “in certain cases €¦ had to remind programmers of Trinity Broadcasting Network that we want to present an accessible, loving Christian message. We do not want to be harsh or critical of other people or faiths to make sure we fulfill our mission. That can sometimes be a delicate matter but it’s one that is certainly manageable and well worth undertaking.”

In some past broadcasts to Palestinian territories, for example, Day said the network was criticized and in some cases censored by Palestinian authorities. He did not specify which programs Palestinians found objectionable.

But balancing the interests of evangelical on-air personalities, fans and overseas authorities continues to prove a delicate matter for the network, drawing criticism from all sides.

In Dec. 2005, TBN stopped airing broadcasts of Hal Lindsey, a frequent critic of Islam and the controversial author of The Late Great Planet Earth, which predicts a coming Armageddon.

Lindsey said his removal was due to his pro-Israel, anti-Muslim stance. In response to protests from Lindsey fans, TBN’s founder and president, Paul Crouch conceded the show was cut because Lindsey’s message clashed with the network’s efforts to evangelize Muslim countries.

A few weeks ago, Lindsey’s show — which discusses current events in the context of Lindsey’s belief in the coming Armageddon — returned to TBN’s airways after TBN developed a technological blocker to prevent it from being aired via satellite if it is deemed objectionable to overseas viewers.

Crouch’s attempts to forge a broadcast deal with China in 2000 also drew criticism when Crouch, after meetings with Chinese officials, went on-air to call the practice of Falun Gong a cult. Human rights groups have claimed the Chinese government has a history of human rights abuses against practitioners of Falun Gong.

While the broadcasts to China will not go through state-controlled television, May said the network is working hard “to build relationships for a long, long time. We have to be pragmatic and practical to realize it is better and wise €¦ to deal with local authorities who are going to be there for a long, long time.

“We can’t have an impact if we’re not there,” he added.

Other TBN critics cite its constant calls for viewer contributions. In its on-air fundraising drives, viewers are preached a “prosperity gospel” with promises they will reap riches in return for their contributions. In 2003, the tax-exempt public charity took in more than $184.2 million, according to IRS records.

But The Trinity Foundation, a Christian charity watchdog organization, claims it has received “thousands” of reports from TBN viewers who felt duped by TBN, giving money they could not afford, said director Ole Anthony.

Similar fundraising drives in poverty-stricken parts of Asia raise “similar and disturbing concerns,” he said.

May said the network is not making any money on its Asian expansion, which costs “hundreds of thousands of dollars” a month. The goal is to provide family-friendly programming and “begin to develop cross-cultural ties and make what we, Americans, take for grated accessible to others,” May said.

He believes it is succeeding. Already, he said, e-mails from Asian viewers are pouring in.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Sunday March 25, 2007.
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