Word of God to be heard via satellite: Christian radio goes on the air next weekend, and TV stations are to follow. Martin Wroe reports

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S airwaves are about to be captured for God. Next weekend, United Christian Broadcasters launches a round-the-clock Christian radio station into three million British homes, via the Astra satellite, promising 'contemporary Christian music and Christian education'.

A month later, the controversial American healer Morris Cerullo begins his own television channel on the Astra satellite with a mix of what a spokesman calls 'American and British ministries'. In addition, Pat Robertson, America's most successful 'televangelist', announced last week that his company, International Family Entertainment, is paying pounds 38m for TVS, which failed to retain its franchise for the south of England. A former Presidential hopeful, Mr Robertson aims to bring his 'wholesome entertainment' Family Channel - which reaches 54 million American homes - into Britain with a base in Maidstone, Kent.

In November, British Christians, worried about the scandal-plagued reputation of some American evangelists, will hold briefing meetings to try to organise clergy in London to apply to run a Christian radio station when the Radio Authority advertises three new medium-wave frequencies next spring. Peter Meadows, who is leading London Christian Radio, said: 'It's pointless expressing concern over any American invasion of independent religious broadcasting if we do not seize the opportunities ourselves.'

The American end of Morris Cerullo's televangelism operation - the Inspirational Channel - reaches seven million homes. He bought it from the liquidators when its former owner Jim Bakker fell from grace after a sex scandal and was later jailed for corruption. Setting up the Inspirational Channel here will cost his organisation pounds 6m but they are confident that their 20,000 British supporters will come up with funds to support the ministry. The Broadcasting Act bars him from on-screen fund-raising.

Ian Mackie, managing director of United Christian Broadcasters, based in Stoke on Trent, says that they will not finance their radio ministry by on-air fund-raising - even though the rules of the Radio Authority allow them to do so. The station will not accept advertising, relying for finance on the goodwill of supporters. 'Our supporters give because they want to see a positive message being broadcast. Religious broadcasting in Britain is being marginalised. There are jazz, dance and now a classical music station - why not a Christian station?' he said.

Mr Mackie is also applying to run a Christian station in North Wales. Churches in High Wycombe, who have formed Wye FM and put together a pounds 300,000 business plan, will also be bidding for a new local radio franchise. 'We won't be overtly evangelistic,' Geoff Curtis, one of the organisers, said. They have been receiving help from the Churches Media Trust, founded by the Bishop of Oxford's communications adviser Richard Thomas, which also helps to finance a religious producer at BBC Radio Oxford and at Radio Berkshire.

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