Miracle Channel told to repent, on pain of losing licence

Globe and Mail, Canada/February 13, 2007
By Grant Robertson

The Miracle Channel, a religious television station that has come under fire for its on-air fundraising campaigns, could lose its broadcast licence in the future if it doesn't follow new rules on how donations are solicited.

Federal regulators told the station yesterday they are considering a rare step that would see the Miracle Channel's right to broadcast linked to how well it abides by its own internal standards.

The cable channel, which raises more than $5-million a year, was ordered to revise its internal fundraising policy last year after controversial on-air statements led to complaints. Hosts during a 2004 fundraising campaign urged viewers to cash in their retirement savings and charge up credit cards to make donations. In some cases, viewers were told they would be rewarded by God with cash or higher real estate values.

At hearings in front of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the channel was told its new internal fundraising policy could be made a condition of its licence.

That would mean the station could lose its ability to broadcast if it steps outside the rules it set for itself, CRTC vice-chair Michel Arpin told executives with the Lethbridge, Alta.-based Miracle Channel.

"We would not have difficulty accepting that as a condition of licence," said Gordon Klassen, vice-president of broadcasting for the Miracle Channel Association, which runs the station as a non-profit charity.

The channel's revised fundraising policy sets out examples of appropriate statements that can be made on air. Hosts are allowed to make comments such as: "We ask you to consider the best gift that you are able to pledge at this time." They are not allowed to say: "If you don't give today, you are robbing God and could go bankrupt."

The document also states "fundraising appeals must not create unrealistic donor expectations of what a donor's gift will actually accomplish." Allowable phrases include: "We believe that as you give, God will bless you in your area of need." The new policy does not allow statements such as: "Because you gave a gift of this amount, God says you will see your income double this month."

The station has applied to expand in Alberta, but the commission sought to address fundraising at the hearings. The channel wants to add over-the-air broadcasts in Edmonton and Calgary. The move would boost donations by roughly 15 per cent to a total of $50.2-million over the next seven years, according to station documents.

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