Media / Talk of the Trade: Evangelist puts TV orthodoxy to the test

ON Sunday BBC 1's Heart of the Matter screened a stomach-churning programme about the television evangelist Morris Cerullo's recent London campaign. It showed small children, wide-eyed with bemusement, one suffering from cancer, another deaf and mute, being led centre stage for 'healing'. Behind the scenes a man, screaming that he had a spinal injury, was manhandled out of his wheelchair by enthusiasts claiming he needed exorcism.

The Independent Television Commission last March granted Mr Cerrullo's organisation a licence to start its own satellite channel on Astra, The European Family Network. Under the 1990 Broadcasting Act religious organisations may not hold licences, but the ITC exercised the discretionary power it has when it comes to non-domestic satellite services. The licence was issued on the understanding that the evangelist would not show exorcism, claim special healing powers for himself, fund-raise directly, or appear to dissuade people from orthodox healing. After the BBC programme (and having already asked for changes to a Cerrullo broadcast on Superchannel last year), the ITC is bound to study the new channel's output closely. But the larger question is whether this licence should have been issued in the first place?