Good News Is Hard To Find
That could change as FamilyNet inks deal with Fox News
By Stuart Miller -- Broadcasting & Cable, 2/15/2004 7:00:00 PM
Pat Robertson is everywhere, delivering his message to everyone. His Christian Broadcast Network (CBN) is just about the only Christian-television player big enough to produce news-and-commentary shows like The 700 Club and Newswatch, so most smaller entities simply carry his programming.
That is changing, in a big way. In an official announcement at the National Religious Broadcasters convention this week, FamilyNet says it has signed a deal to begin receiving Fox News' NewsEdge service, essentially the news feed Fox provides its affiliates.
That should instantly spruce up FamilyNet's ability to broaden its news presence. It will allow FamilyNet to move toward a daily newscast. The network hasn't said it's starting one, but a spokeswoman said pointedly that the Fox deal "lets us tailor our own news programming" and use Fox footage in its daily At Home Live show, which has a topical bent.
The paucity of Christian news organizations is a sore point for the NRB. "This is a huge opportunity, and it's frustrating that we're not realizing it," says President Frank Wright, explaining that these networks should be dealing with the news from the secular world.
There are business reasons and religious ones, too. "The heart of the Protestant Reformation was that there's no separation between the secular and sacred. You don't compartmentalize your life," he points out.
"CBN has the only real news department," says TBN Vice President of Administration Paul Crouch Jr., "and they're the only ones who can financially sustain that."
(These days, TV evangelist Robertson's The 700 Club airs three times daily on ABC Family. The Disney-owned channel inherited the show in acquiring the former Fox Family Channel from News Corp. in 2001. It was a holdover on Fox Family, too: Robertson was part owner of the original Family Channel, and, when News Corp. scooped up the network, keeping The 700 Club was part of the deal. On ABC Family, the hour 700 Club plays at 10 a.m. ET, 11 p.m. ET and 2 a.m. ET.)
Some networks make modest efforts to go beyond CBN. EWTN offers a weekly news program because it wants a more distinctly Catholic approach than CBN offers, but channel President Michael Warsaw also says EWTN's news is "less likely to editorialize than CBN. We allow individuals in a particular story to speak for themselves."
Wright knows religious networks will never compete with the major cable news networks and Big Three broadcasters. But he wants to bring "our world view" to the news and plans to see whether the NRB can negotiate an affordable group rate for footage from agencies like Reuters to enable more Christian networks to begin some kind of news programming.
FamilyNet's announcement at the NRB convention is a baby step into this field. According to Director of Television Production Ron Ingram, the network, which already shows The 700 Club, Newswatch, and ANN, will begin establishing a news presence with news breaks on the hour.
For those that do tackle the news, there's the pressing question of how to handle mainstream cultural "news" items like the Janet Jackson flap. Wright acknowledges the push and pull, saying that many viewers turn to Christian television as something they can watch with their kids and an escape from the titillating trash that dominates so many newscasts. "We don't cover breaking news, so we don't need to cover such unpleasant things. We can bring people a perspective of hope and use the news as a teaching opportunity."
Warsaw believes that, because Christian audiences "don't live in a vacuum" and get news from many sources, "we don't have to report every story out there. We probably will not cover the Janet Jackson story."
Ingram, on the other hand, says, "We don't want to skirt the news, but we'd do it in a tasteful way, touching on it without using a Telestrator to blow it up beyond proportion."
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