Church sells Sky shares in protest

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The Methodist Church announced last night that it has sold its shareholding in BSkyB, the satellite television company, because of "degrading" soft core pornography programmes being offered by the broadcaster from today.

The sale by the church's Central Finance Board was prompted by the launch of the Playboy channel, which will provide erotic entertainment on a pay- per-evening basis.

BSkyB, which is 40 per cent owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, is helping to launch the Playboy channel with partners Flextech and Playboy Enterprises.

A spokeswoman for the church said the sale of 225,000 ordinary shares with a value of pounds 846,000 did not imply a Methodist judgement upon broadcasting that has erotic content. "The decision has been taken in order to express dissatisfaction with material which is designed wholly to provide sexual stimulation, and which degrades and exploits human beings," she said.

BSkyB last night expressed "regret" at the church's action. A spokesperson said: "We hope that in the fullness of time they will reconsider their decision. It should be borne in mind that the channel is completely legal and has been cleared by the appropriate authorities."

The announcement comes as BSkyB launches six new channels today, bringing its number of channels to 28 and making it the largest direct-to-home network in the world. The costs to subscribers will rise by pounds 1 for all basic multi channels and one premiere channel and by pounds 2 for all basic multi channels plus two or more premiere channels.

The top price monthly subscription becomes pounds 24.99 with the cheapest at pounds 10.99 for Sky's 4.5 million subscribers.

One of the new channels, the Sci-Fi channel, will offer a range of science fact and fiction programmes.