To many people, the phrase “religious programming” automatically conjures up images of such fervidly evangelistic shows as The PTL Club and 100 Huntley Street. But on Sept. 1, a new and more low-key Canadian religious network will begin transmitting on cable—potentially to about
four million households. Called Vision TV, the network will feature dramas, music, films, documentaries and publicaffairs programs as well as shows designed to reflect the specific interests of a particular faith—including Christian, Jewish, Sikh, Moslem, Hindu, Unitarian, Buddhist and Zoroastrian. The network
itself will not seek donations—but representatives of different faiths will be able to make 90-second pitches for offerings during each 30-minute segment. Said Rev. Gordon Howe, executive secretary of the British Columbia conference of the United Church of Canada: “It is claiming religious broadcasting back from the fanatics.”
The main goal of the nonprofit network, said Vision TV spokesman Richelle Wiseman, is to offer alternative, entertaining programming that will also increase public awareness of religious viewpoints in Canada. Of the six hours of daily programming—a three-hour segment shown twice—the network plans to buy or produce about 50 per cent, with the remainder produced and paid for by specific communities. But the theme common to all the network’s programming, according to Wiseman, is “high values and respect for human life, the environment and the family.”
When Vision TV finally airs this week, it will be the end of a process that lasted more than six years. In January, 1982, the Canadian Radiotelevision and Telecommunications Commission held a public hearing on religious broadcasting in Canada. Of the 1,500 submissions the commission received, one was from the Rosewell Group, a seven-member organization of people who said that religious broadcasting did not provide an adequate reflection of Canada’s various faiths. The CRTC challenged the group to put together a proposal for a channel that would involve the co-operation of all groups.
With new representatives from a broad spectrum of faiths, the applicants changed their name to the Canadian Interfaith Network. But before they submitted a formal bid to share the channel with Crossroads Christian Communications—which produces 100 Huntley Street—Crossroads withdrew from the application. It did so because it suffered a drop in support following the March, 1987, incident in which televangelist Jim Bakker confessed to having had a brief sexual encounter with church secretary Jessica Hahn.
Despite that setback, Interfaith— which renamed itself Vision TV—received its licence and managed to raise $3 million in start-up costs from religious groups. Community spokesmen, including Rev. Arie Van Eek, executive secretary of the Council of Christian Reformed Churches, say that Vision TV will increase awareness among religions. But he added that the network’s real challenge will be to get the message across in a creative way—and fight to keep its share of an alreadyfragmented viewing audience.
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