The new law change in religious and spiritual broadcasting means that church groups as well as minority groups should, by legislation, expect their fair share of radio and television programming, but has been responded tentatively to by some Christians working in secular radio and television.
In February this year, the Broadcast Amendment Bill #2 was passed in Parliament, meaning the public broadcaster will now be legally obliged to “encourage a range of broadcasts that reflect the religious and ethical diversity of New Zealanders.”
The change of law gives legal ground to the Church to expect religious broadcasting and gives the Churches Broadcasting Commission a right to apply pressure to NZ on Air and Parliament.
The law change will mean the new government will need to put away more money from tax dollars and that needs to be put aside for local content.
Grant Dixon, who operates his own television and video productions company in Lower Hutt, is hopeful true changes will result but fears the leopard won’t change its spots. “I believe there’s an entrenched tabloid infotainment culture and I think it will be hard to change without bringing in new blood. In the areas of young adult music, like Parachute Productions, and comedy, and even cartoons like Vegetails, there’s great potential, but will the program slots and money be available?”
However, broadcaster Ian Johnstone says that “While I welcome more and better programming which advances particular religious beliefs, I believe programmes which set out to promote a particularly Christian or any other religious solution or viewpoint are less valuable than those which explore social, philosophical and ethical questions and issues because of their intrinsic interest and importance. I very much hope to play some part in making programmes with that aim.”
Christian Broadcasting Association (CBA) is an independent program producer that makes radio programmes with a Christian edge for secular commercial radio networks. They have made over 800 programmes in the last three years and reach 150,000 ordinary New Zealanders every weekday on Newstalk ZB.
“We’re reaching non-Christian audiences, on the stations they’re already listening to – on the top rating, number one secular nationwide networks,” says CBA’s sole employee Phil Guyan.
The mission of CBA is to “communicate the essentials of the Christian faith to those who have never understood.” Phil Guyan says CBA want to speak the message of Jesus “in a meaningful way that makes sense to normal New Zealanders who rarely set foot inside a Church.”
According to a 1998 survey on one of their shows done by an independent research analyst, “82% of regular listeners are happy with the current variety of topics, with the majority feeling that the programmes are direct enough to make their point.”
Phil Guyan makes the point that CBA asks the station, “What are your needs? How can we help? When we’ve identified their needs, we propose a program concept, which we work on together, until it actually will benefit them. Then my job is to figure out how to communicate the essentials of the Christian faith using that program as a vehicle.”
Phil’s personal motivation for being involved in secular radio is his mission statement “to live in such a way as to advance the cause of Christ.” His goal is to “influence as many people toward Christ” as he can before he dies. “CBA is the vehicle, which at this point in history influences more non-Christians per dollar spent than any other organisation in NZ.”
Phil Guyan says the law change means nothing until the government grants more money to NZ on Air to meet the amendment.
“If the government does grant more money then the prospects are very good for CBA. We could produce many more programmes for a greater variety of radio networks if we get funding.”
[First published Challenge Weekly, 2000]