Originally created 02/28/04

Evangelical broadcasters see opportunity after Janet Jackson flap



CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Evangelical Protestant broadcasters see something more in Janet Jackson's Super Bowl flash than exposed flesh and bad taste - namely, the opportunity to market themselves as a wholesome alternative to mainstream television.

"People are hurting, both economically and morally, and as a broadcaster I feel we have a chance to offer them hope," Carol Jones Saint said last week during a break at the annual convention of National Religious Broadcasters, a trade association of 1,600 radio and TV stations, networks and program producers.

Saint's family has operated a Christian radio station in Erie, Pa., since 1948. She was among 6,000 media executives who attended the Charlotte extravaganza.

The convention offered such timely workshops as "FCC Indecency Regulations and the Broadcast of Four-Letter Words" and "Christian Response to Reality TV." And the organization formally called upon Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to crack down on offensive broadcasts.

"I think a lot of parents viewed the Super Bowl halftime show as a real wake-up call," said Robert Reccord, president of the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, America's largest Protestant denomination.

The denomination is parent of Fort Worth, Texas-based FamilyNet, a 24-hour cable network that reaches 31 million households. The Baptist network has just contracted to include Fox News Channel reports in programs it produces.

"A lot of people have said to me that they had no idea these kind of things were already being shown on MTV," he said, calling the national dialogue about indecency an opportunity for faith-based programmers though with no guarantee of success.

"We want to offer a new alternative," he said. "And we want it to be known we're not just for adults. We also want to reach the children. We really believe that how we look at things determines how we end up behaving."

The key is making all programming - whether Christian or secular - compelling, he said: "We want to make it relevant."

"Our work is cut out for us" in trying to compete against secular programming that includes MTV and reality shows, said Freda Crews of Spartanburg, S.C., whose "Time For Hope" TV show is seen on about 125 stations around the country.

"My feeling is we shouldn't try to work against things like MTV," said Crews, who describes her show described it as a "faith-based mental health program. ... We need to offer young people an alternative."

Crews said she tried to keep her show relevant by addressing topics such as premarital sex, though "recently I had to turn down one guest because I considered (the material) just too graphic," she said. "I believe strongly that we need to offer more age-appropriate material."

The Rev. Franklin Graham, who runs the Samaritan's Purse world relief agency and succeeded his father as head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, addressed the Janet Jackson controversy during his convention appearance, giving matters a political twist:

"If this president is not re-elected, the floodgates of this garbage is going to be open because there won't be anyone to stand against it," Graham said in a speech that drew a standing ovation. Without mentioning names, he said the goal of "these people" is to show open sex on TV.

Graham closed by saying "shame on you" to broadcasters who avoid political stands.

Another speaker was the Rev. Pat Robertson, who received an award for boosting visits to Israel from Benny Elon, the nation's cabinet member responsible for tourism. The TV evangelist praised Israel's survival in the face of the "fanatical religion" of Muslim neighbors, saying Palestinian President Yasser Arafat was raised to finish Hitler's work.

After the Robertson tribute, Elon said that "not all of the Muslims are enemies. But there are many that have really forgotten morality."

On the Net:

National Religious Broadcasters: http://www.nrb.org