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Northern Ireland Assembly

Tuesday 13 June 2000


United Christian Broadcasters

The sitting begun and suspended on Monday 12 June 2000 was resumed at 10.30 am.

Mr Speaker:

May I advise business managers that the Business Committee will meet 10 minutes after the rise of the House.

United Christian Broadcasters


The Chairman of the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee (Mr ONeill): I beg to move

That this Assembly calls upon the appropriate broadcast licensing authorities to facilitate United Christian Broadcasters in their use of unused AM frequencies.

The Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee received representations from United Christian Broadcasters UCB. Having deliberated on the matter at some length, we felt that it would be significant and important to bring this motion before the House by way of support. As you are aware, Mr Speaker, this is not a devolved matter. However, the Committee takes it so seriously, on the basis that it involves a simple, fundamental human right, that we felt it necessary to bring it to the attention of the House and inveigle Members into giving their support so as to strengthen the case for relieving what we consider to be an injustice.

Who are UCB? They are an international and interdenominational charity — and I would stress the interdenominational aspect of their work, since in our country this can be an interesting subject. They cross all community groups and have representation from all organised Christian religions. They have offices in Belfast, Dublin and various other parts of the world. Their European studios are located in Stoke-on-Trent, and they have large support in Britain and Ireland. They can count on 270,000 people who would petition to support them. Some 30,000 are from Northern Ireland, and 10,000 are from the Republic.

Yesterday I received a petition signed by 27,000 people in support of UCB’s request for fair treatment. I have examined the box of petitions, and I understand they were examined by the Minister responsible in the Dáil, who instructed her officials to spend three days going through them — much to their satisfaction. I do not have that time or those resources. However, from what I can see, they are clearly a very representative set of petition seekers.

The UCB radio station began in the 1980s when the present managing director, Mr Gareth Littler, campaigned in Parliament to bring about freedom for Christian radio.

He petitioned Parliament with 273,000 signatures — and succeeded in obtaining a satellite licence. Unfortunately, however, a clause was added to the Broadcasting Act to exclude any religious body from broadcasting nationally. The Minister responsible for the Act was Mr David Mellor, whom, I am sure, many in the House remember well. His action was never debated on the Floor of the House of Commons. In other words, the insertion of that clause, which has prevented Christian music radio stations from obtaining a licence to broadcast on ordinary radio ever since, was a unilateral act of the Minister.

Of course, this has a particular impact in Northern Ireland, where, as we know, there is a very keen interest in Christian music. UCB began broadcasting in May 1993, on satellite, and it continues to do so. However, in 1997 it was refused even an application for a licence. It is not even allowed to apply for a licence because of the 1990 and the more recent 1996 Broadcasting Acts. This law is exclusive, discriminatory and needs to be changed.

Christians are being excluded from broadcasting, and as a result UCB took legal action and advice from Baker and MacKenzie, a top law firm in London. David Pannick QC, one of the most highly respected barristers in Britain, gave the opinion that the refusal to give the UCB an application form for a radio licence was a breach of the rights given to all under the Human Rights Convention, and a denial of freedom of expression, freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination. In the Good Friday Agreement, in the section entitled "Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity", the parties affirmed

"the right to freedom and expression of religion;
the right to pursue democratically, national and political aspirations;
the right to equal opportunity in all social and economic activity, regardless of ... creed".

This action by UCB is continuing through the European Court of Human Rights, and the outcome is awaited.

It is also important to point out that the BBC seeks to retain its monopoly on religious broadcasting nationally, while it clearly has no plans to provide a 24-hour specialist Christian radio music station. The lack of such a station presents some difficulties. I will try to outline some of them. Over the years both the BBC and ITV have drastically cut the time allocated to religious broadcasting. ITV companies give an average of only 2% of the available broadcasting hours per week. Last year, BBC1 did not have a Christmas Day service and there is no indication that there will be any improvement in this respect.

There are also concerns about quality. While some religious programmes have clearly been excellent, many have not.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

Does the Member accept that, while the BBC does from time to time neglect its public duty, it provides many good religious programmes — for instance, Steve Stockman’s radio programme on a Sunday evening, ‘Songs of Praise’ on BBC television and ‘Sunday Sequence’, which provides a wide range of thought-provoking religious ideas? We can be hard on the BBC from time to time, but it still provides that service.

Mr ONeill:

I accept what Mr Paisley says. When he intervened I was saying that, while some religious programmes have been excellent — and, as he has done, we can name them — others have not been particularly helpful to the Christian faith. There has been a tendency to trivialise it, and some have even blended Christianity with such things as witchcraft. There is therefore a question about the standard as well as the frequency of religious programming.

The 1996 agreement between the Government and the BBC, and the Broadcasting Act 1996 simply expanded the 1990 national religious disqualification to include local digital licences. This ensured that there would be no future competition for the state broadcaster’s national religious monopoly. It could be argued that this breaks competition law.

That Northern Ireland has been affected already is demonstrated by the way in which the UCB’s requests for an application for the recently advertised local digital radio licence was treated. In April the radio authority refused the UCB access to a Northern Ireland licence and, as I said earlier, would not even provide an application form. There is no Christian music radio station in Northern Ireland today. Such a service is banned by the combined forces of the BBC and the UK Government. It is not that there is a shortage of frequencies or an inability to provide programming. Atheists are not being told that there is a shortage of frequencies for them. This is straightforward, unfortunate discrimination against Christians, and the total ban on religious groups still applies. Up to 200 digital licences are being made available around the United Kingdom, but none of them can be for a Christian music station.

When one looks at it in that particular light, one can see, as I said at the outset, that there is a basic point of principle at stake here about freedom. There is also a question of standards in Christian broadcasting stations, and one fear often expressed about Christian radio stations perhaps arises from some of the abuses that may have occurred in the United States with the exploitative, televangelist approach.

I should like to assure the House that there are safeguards in that very same Broadcasting Act 1990 which would control the quality of any Christian radio station. There are three in particular to which I draw Members’ attention. Ownership by fit and proper persons is dealt with in Part III, section 86(4)(a). Responsible programming which does not exploit is dealt with in Part III, section 90(1) and 90(2). In addition, under Part I, 4(1)(a) of the 1996 Act, authorities may impose additional licensing conditions as they deem necessary. These three sections would provide direct control over such radio stations and should assure those who may have concerns about the exploitative nature of certain broadcasting companies they may have come across in America.

10.45 am

Following the UCB submission to Members on 9 March 1999, 85% of the Members from our ranks have signed in support, and I expect that support may have grown somewhat since. This is a reflection of the very point I made at the beginning, that people recognise this as a denial of a basic and fundamental human right. It is also interesting to note that 88·88% of MPs in Northern Ireland — and I do not know how that figure was arrived at — have also signed up in support of it.

In the Republic of Ireland, as I said earlier, the Minister for Broadcasting, Síle de Valera, in a speech in the Dáil, acknowledged the need for a licensing regime for the United Christian Broadcasters’ radio station. There is, therefore, a strong case to be answered here, and the Committee is asking that the House approve this motion. A case can then be put to those people who allocate licenses to illustrate that we have major concerns about this denial of what we describe as a basic human right, and we can ask them to reconsider their views with regard to Christian broadcasting in general.

Mr Speaker:

The Business Committee decided that this debate could run for two hours. Given the substantial number of Members who wish to speak, I can allow only five minutes for each and then 15 minutes for the proposer’s winding-up speech.

(Madam Deputy Speaker [Ms Morrice] in the Chair)

Mr Benson:

I thank Mr ONeill and his Committee for bringing forward this important motion. I also thank him for the very detailed statement he has made this morning. I will not be repeating any of it.

I fully support today’s motion that the appropriate broadcasting licensing authority be asked to facilitate the United Christian Broadcasters and allow them to broadcast on unused AM frequencies. What have we to lose by supporting this motion? There is an opportunity to provide twenty-four hour Christian broadcasting for those who want it and all the existing stations and programmes for those who do not. In a broadly Christian country it seems ridiculous that independent ethnic radio stations have air space, while a Christian radio station cannot find the space to provide a valuable service to the people. The irony is that the Russian federation has given the United Christian Broadcasters access to four AM frequencies previously used for propaganda, yet the United Kingdom Government will not remove the legal obstacles. Throughout the world, Ireland is referred to as the Land of saints and scholars. I am sure we all claim to have high Christian and moral values. It is therefore imperative that the United Christian Broadcasters be granted the necessary licence and facilities so that they can reinforce Christian values among the general public. I ask all in the Chamber to fully support this important motion.

Mr Shannon:

I endorse the comments that have been put forward. This issue concerns many of us, and all members of the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee endorsed the proposal. Constituents have contacted us about it, and therefore it is important that we discuss it today. The UCB put their case to Assembly Members some 18 months ago, and a concerted campaign has been operating ever since. The matter was brought before the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee by those with a particular interest in it, and as a result of the representations that were made to us 85% of MLAs signed the motion. It is interesting that a majority of MPs have done likewise. This shows that among the political parties in this Chamber there is a united front. There is a desire to make sure that this issue be brought to the fore and that the Government respond positively to it.

The ban on the UCB is totally discriminating. It affects all sections of the community, and all feel aggrieved. The ban on religious ownership of the national radio stations in the United Kingdom is contained in the Broadcasting Act 1990. As a direct result of that — and I know that my Colleague has mentioned some of the BBC’s efforts — the BBC has a monopoly on religious broadcasting nationally. This is before the European Court of Human Rights, where the matter will be decided. There is an issue to be addressed: the BBC should not have the monopoly of all national religious broadcasting.

We were urged at the time to write to Janet Anderson, the Minister responsible. We have not received a response, which is disappointing, for that is what the people want. Only independent specialist Christian radio stations can meet the unfilled request, and the UCB could do just that. The number of people who have written on this issue to Assembly Members, to our Members of Parliament and to the councils is enormous. Indeed, in the Dáil there are moves afoot to make sure that there will be changes there.

Changes in legislation are important and something we wish to see. We do not have power in the Assembly to make those changes; that power lies in London.

The United Kingdom law is out of step with almost all of Europe and even with north and south America. We have all received a chart that shows all the countries where UCB stations and private stations can tell their different stories in music and in word. But there is a gap. Cuba, a country with a very strict regime, has a radio licence facility, as do the Eastern bloc countries, Switzerland, the United States and Argentina. Some of these countries we have not got on well with in the past. The United Kingdom is the one country that is out of step, out of tune and, some would say, out of frequency with the rest of Europe and the rest of the world.

The people who benefit from UCB are numerous, especially in rural areas. For many who live in rural parts of Northern Ireland, the only contact with the outside world is through radio. It is important that that thirst for Christian radio and music can be quenched. The UCB, as it has shown in other parts of the world, can present a programme of Christian radio — music, verse and word — to those who listen to and use Christian religious programmes.

At present people can get these programmes through satellite and cable television. They cater for some 300,000 people, but not for everyone. Not everyone has a satellite dish or can receive cable television.

Broadcasting can, and indeed does, show many immoral practices. The balance that is needed is not there. The UCB has adopted the very same guidelines that the BBC once had for religious broadcasting as a basis for all its work. The UCB is not operating and giving a service in Northern Ireland purely and simply because of the BBC and the United Kingdom Government.

There must be controls so that cults and other religions can be responsible. The UCB has met the demands that have been made, and it is important that that is said as well. Recent newspaper reports have highlighted chronic depression as the reason for the fact that many young people commit suicide. That shows the need for the UCB radio station’s uplifting and life-changing message of reconciliation. The Minister in London needs to change the law and remove this discrimination urgently. The alternative is to devolve responsibility for broadcasting licences to the Assembly.

Mr McElduff:

A LeasCheann Comhairle. Ba mhaith liom, ag labhairt ar son Sinn Féin, tacaíocht a thabhairt don rún seo. On behalf of Sinn Féin, I want to support the motion in principle. We all appreciate the strength of the UCB’s lobby.

UCB’s lobby is very highly motivated and obviously well resourced. That group has spoken to many Assembly Members individually and has written to everyone. TDs in other parts of the country have also been lobbied.

My party’s support for the motion should come as no surprise, given our direct experience of censorship — of having our voice suppressed, access to the airwaves denied and actors’ voices substituted for ours in the past which no doubt, provided work for Equity. We all know that censorship does not work. Section 31 did not work with RTÉ in the Twenty-Six Counties, nor did its application in the North. Exclusion from the broadcast media was a very undemocratic experience for our party. It was wrong, unjust and unfair, and we would not seek to impose such censorship on United Christian Broadcasters. Essentially, we see this as a human rights issue, which is relevant to the equality agenda, as legislated for in the new era of the Good Friday Agreement.

As a party, Sinn Féin has consistently championed the right of all people to freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of speech and freedom from discrimination. Not surprisingly, neither I nor any other member of Sinn Féin holds any brief for UCB as an organisation. However, it is appropriate to invoke article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which cites the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Obviously, it is correct and legitimate to outline some of the responsibilities that automatically accompany rights in this matter. We all have our own concerns about programme content and the need to avoid the denigration of other religions. I assume that UCB has no intention of going down that road, but I want to make the point that we all have our individual preferences with regard to a more ecumenical inclusive approach that reflects the diversity of religions. We can seek assurances about accepted guidelines and standards, but when someone supports something in principle, it is more about the principle than about the content.

In conclusion, we support the motion in principle. Early this morning I listened to the tape — "A Gift from God" — which was presented to us by UCB. It begins

"It is 6.25 am; what a beautiful morning to wake up to God."

I asked a friend of mine yesterday for his views, and he quoted a very popular song:

"All God’s creatures have a place in the choir."

It is a nice sentiment. From Sinn Féin’s point of view, that includes the Rev William McCrea.

Dr Birnie:

It will be hard to follow that last point.

In this House we often face difficult issues of competing principles, one of which is the allocation of public money. It is very hard to identify the principle that could be held to oppose this motion. Moreover, there is no commitment for spending public money on it. It requires support because it is an issue of freedom, human rights and religious tolerance. As such, UCB’s campaign has received widespread public support, and, as the Chairman of the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee said, it has received widespread cross-party support in the Assembly. It seems that UCB has fallen victim to the Broadcasting Act 1990, schedule 2, in particular, and we wonder why that schedule was included. The Chairman of the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee suggested that that schedule owed much to the exaggerated fears of the then Minister, David Mellor, about the potential invasion of the United Kingdom media by the grosser aspects of United States-style televangelism.

11.00 am

Those fears were almost certainly misplaced to begin with, and did not justify what was a gross limitation on freedom and religious tolerance. It will be objected that if permission is given to an exclusively Christian broadcaster, Islamic stations, for example, will inevitably follow. There are two responses to that. First, if one takes a strong view on religious liberty, one will not wish to stop Islamic broadcasting. In any case, it will happen under provisions for racial equality and so forth. There is no technical limitation on broadcasting by UCB. As I understand it, the AM frequencies are available.

In his opening speech, the Chairman of the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee rightly said that there is a high level of public support for this type of motion. As Mr Shannon said, it is an upsetting situation when many other countries such as Slovakia and Argentina, which have not hitherto been regarded as paragons of liberalism, now have better freedom of religious broadcasting legislation than the United Kingdom. There seems to be progress on changing UCB’s position in the Republic of Ireland, which I welcome, and also in Europe under the European Convention on Human Rights. I appeal to the United Kingdom authorities not to be found wanting. I urge the House to support the motion.

Mr A Maginness:

This is a matter of freedom of speech — indeed, of freedom of religion. When one examines the statutory basis of the ban on religious ownership of national radio stations in the UK and religious broadcasting, one wonders why such a restriction was imposed in the first place. It is difficult to say. There was no real debate at Westminster on this particular aspect of the Broadcasting Act 1990. Perhaps it was not intended to have this effect. If that were so, UCB would have an easier path, but I suspect that that was not the position. The real suspicion is that the BBC wishes to hold on to its monopoly of religious broadcasting. That is the stumbling block. We should send a strong message to the BBC and to Westminster that we disagree profoundly with this ban — that we see it as a very serious infringement of religious freedom and freedom of speech; that we do not believe that a large, powerful organisation funded exclusively by the public should enjoy such a monopoly over an area of great sensitivity that deeply affects many people.

If the 1990 Act was bad, the Broadcasting Act 1996 was even worse. The 1996 Act extends the ban to include local digital licences. That is clearly unacceptable. There should not have been an extension of this ban. As Mr ONeill, the Chairman of the Committee, said, the UCB requested a form of application for a recently advertised local digital radio licence but was refused. That is a matter for great regret.

I welcome this debate, which is of great service to the House and to the community in general. It raises the questions about the sort of devolution that we want. One is beginning to realise, having experienced the supply debate yesterday, that there are restrictions in relation to devolution in terms of monetary issues and in the raising of public funds for all our public bodies. We now realise that we are restricted even in terms of broadcasting. It would be useful if the Government were to consider extending the ability of the Administration here to grant broadcasting licences. Surely, granting licences would come under our capable purview, and is something that we should be seeking from the Westminster Government.

There is a much more sympathetic attitude in the Republic. The Minister responsible for broadcasting matters, Síle de Valera, has said that she will amend the legislation in the Republic of Ireland in order to permit UCB to broadcast. That is progressive and should be welcomed. The decision contrasts sharply with the current policy of the Westminster Administration.

UCB is currently confined to the more heavenly sphere of satellite broadcasting. However, I am reliably informed that it would be happy to add to its heavenly operation a more earthly role as a terrestrial broadcaster.

Mr Carrick:

I speak in support of the motion. United Christian Broadcasters has experienced frustration in its attempts to overcome apparent discrimination to establish freedom of expression. I believe that it is my duty in the Assembly to ensure that this organisation receives equality of treatment and the right to freedom of expression. We need to overcome the national monopoly held by the BBC.

On the subject of equality of treatment, there can be no justification for the continuing stance taken by the broadcasting authorities to hinder the issue of a licence to United Christian Broadcasters. I come from a Christian background — Christian in the biblical sense: one who is justified by faith alone, reached by redeeming love and saved by Christ’s matchless grace. Biblically, I take the name "Christian" based upon the absolute supremacy of the word of Christ, the sufficiency of the work of Christ and the superiority of the way of Christ.

Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 demands equality of opportunity and Christians should not be discriminated against, or hindered in the proclamation of the Christian message or the word of God. There are many differences of emphasis in worship. Indeed, there is an ecumenical interpretation that I do not agree with, but, whatever one’s beliefs, the principle of equality of opportunity is still valid.

The continual rejection by the broadcasting authorities to deny UCB an application to broadcast gospel music is unacceptable. The creation of a level playing field, to include the right of Christians to promote the Christian gospel in word and music, is imperative.

This brings me to the second principle — the right to freedom of expression. We live in an age where we have witnessed the decline of moral standards and values. The expression of this downgrade is no more evident than in the broadcasting industry, whether it be on television or radio. All sorts of deviant behaviour and perverted values are represented regularly in the media.

Without a blush, without a pang of conscience, and without a thought for the consequences, all sorts of vulgarities, obscenities and lewd activities are portrayed and conveyed through the media. How much more vital is it then for a Christian message to be available to the populace, when they eventually realise that the wantonness of this pleasure-seeking, depraved world is failing them? It is essential for the moral good of our people that the right of Christians to bring a message of hope, love, compassion, life and, indeed, eternal life be upheld in a world that is lying in the lap of iniquity. To restrict the freedom of expression for Christians is to deny to a needy world the one sure solution to all its problems. Christ is the answer.

We may differ culturally and religiously. Socially we may move in different circles and hold different political perspectives. However, the Christian gospel message is one that concerns all cultural, social and political views, for in it Christ states

"I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."

Therefore it is important that the United Christian Broadcasters, and others like-minded, be afforded the right to use the airwaves to convey this message of all messages — that Christ loves the world of sinners lost and ruined by the fall, and salvation he offers free to all.

Finally, as an Assembly, Members should seek to expose and oppose the anti-competitive process of the national monopoly relating to religious broadcasting. The contemporary gospel music broadcast by UCB reflects and proclaims the faith of the Church, as found in the Bible and the living traditions and preaching of the visible Christian Church.

Mr J Kelly:

A LeasCheann Comhairle. I rise to support the motion although having listened to what Mervyn Carrick said, which had a touch of the zealot about it, I have some feeling of reservation because to be too zealous in religious terms can be dangerous. However, I support the motion because as far as the BBC is concerned, there has been too much of a broadcasting monopoly over the years. We have been tied too much by the monopoly under the Broadcasting Act on all aspects, but particularly in relation to religion.

I enjoy, as much as anyone, listening to religious programmes. Indeed, just last night I turned on RTÉ, and Hans Küng was on. Hans Küng has been silenced by the Catholic Church for giving expression to what it terms radical views in relation to Christianity. So it was good to be able to listen to someone like Hans Küng. Had it not been for RTÉ, and its use of the airwaves, we might not have heard a different view of Catholicism from a man who is an ordained priest, a Catholic and a theologian. It therefore has advantages. Rights carry with them responsibility. There is no right without responsibility. We have to be conscious of our responsibilities in relation to these matters, and the airwaves should not be used to insult, by any word or act, another religion, whether Muslim, Hindu, Catholic, Protestant or Presbyterian. I am sure that the United Christian Broadcasters are conscious of this.

We have to be conscious of our responsibilities in relation to broadcasting, and particularly our Christian broadcasting.

11.15 am

My Colleague Mr McElduff mentioned article 9, but article 10 refers to the rights to freedom of expression, freedom to hold opinions and freedom to receive and impart information. Those are all important, particularly in terms of our religious input into society. How is it approached? How do we deal with it, given all the sensitivities involved?

I agree with Mr Carrick, that day and daily, our lives and homes are invaded by the most materialistic of considerations. Yet no one cries out, calls for a ban or seeks to suppress advertising that in many ways causes hardship to families, particularly advertising that is aimed at young people and children and, given the enticements involved, puts parents under a great deal of stress. Perhaps because there is too much money involved no one wants to ban or restrict advertising. Yet when we come to a Christian message, we find this embargo. Maybe that speaks volumes about attitudes in the new millennium to Christianity in general.

In principle, I support the motion.

I will finish by echoing Mr McElduff. What about a cross-community choir with an opportunity to sing from the same hymn sheet? There are two Testaments, the Old Testament and the New Testament. I like to think that we will be concentrating, by and large, on the New Testament.

Mr McCarthy:

It is a delight to hear such a united voice in the Chamber this morning. Long may that continue. As the Alliance Party’s representative on the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee, I fully support the efforts of the UCB to get a licence from the licensing authority and the United Kingdom Government to broadcast Christian music throughout these islands.

It is to the eternal shame of the broadcasting authority that it has continually refused a licence to enable the UCB to provide a service to a very wide and appreciative audience. What is it afraid of? It is often said that we live in a Christian society. If that is the case, surely it must follow that every effort be made to promote the Christian way of life. And what better way to do that than to offer a variety of Christian broadcasts in the form of music, praise and worship? There must be space for everyone.

The Alliance Party has always supported freedom of choice. Here we are being denied that freedom, for whatever reason. It is to be hoped that after today’s debate the attitude of the authority will change. The Chairman of the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee has welcomed the fact that the Dublin authorities have recently acknowledged the need for a licence to be given to the UCB so that local Christian music can be available to all who wish to hear it. There is also an economic benefit to be gained by local Irish artists who will have the airwaves to advance their musical talents.

Undoubtedly, the Christian music of the UCB has brought, and will continue to bring, great comfort, peace and reconciliation to many people. It must be our prayer and hope today that the Government will grant the necessary licence without delay. I fully support the motion.

Mr Roche:

I have no intention of following the first Sinn Féin contributor to the debate, who used the motion as a political platform and whose comments were absolutely reprehensible. The ban on Sinn Féin/IRA that existed in both the United Kingdom and the Republic was not a denial of human rights; it was there to prevent an organisation that literally murdered Protestants in their place of worship and murdered a young Catholic girl coming from her place of worship from using the broadcasting media as a means of legitimising its foul, murderous activity.

UCB is a highly professional broadcasting organisation, licensed since 1993 to broadcast —

Mr J Kelly:

Will the Member give way?

Mr Roche:

I will not give way.

It has been licensed since 1993 to broadcast via the Astra satellite. UCB is a registered charity run by 50 full-time staff and hundreds of volunteers. It operates two round-the-clock music radio stations. UCB Europe presents praise, worship and easy-listening music, Bible readings and factual programmes for adults. UCB Cross Rhythms presents contemporary gospel music for young people.

The breakdown of UCB output is 70% Christian music and 30% speech-based material, made up of Christian testimonies, interviews, Bible readings, phone-ins and competitions. Contemporary Christian music is the fastest growing genre of music in the world, and UCB gospel music broadcasts reflect and proclaim the faith of the church as it is found in the Bible and in the living traditions and teachings of the visible Christian churches. This type of gospel music is virtually unrepresented in the programming of the BBC and independent local radio stations. This means that there is a very large demand for the type of Christian music provided by UCB — a demand that is not being met by the BBC.

UCB’s problem is that under the 1990 Broadcasting Act it is not permitted access to a national radio frequency, and this ban was extended to local digital radio under the 1996 Broadcasting Act. That legislation effectively represents lobbying by the BBC for a monopoly of national religious broadcasting. This monopoly is entirely unacceptable at the very time that the technical advance into digital is opening up the opportunity for a great diversity of broadcasting. Responsible Christian broadcasting represented by an organisation such as UCB must be permitted to be part of that diversity. This is not intended as an adverse comment on the BBC’s religious broadcasting. It is simply to make the case that religious broadcasting should not be effectively monopolised by one broadcasting organisation.

There is no Christian music radio in Northern Ireland today because it is banned as a result of the 1990 and 1996 legislation. The people of Northern Ireland are being disadvantaged by the UK’s secular regulators. This is absolutely unacceptable. The unacceptability of the situation has been recently highlighted by William Hague. He said to an audience of about 8,000 people at this year’s spring harvest Bible camp in April

"It is unacceptable that a glass ceiling has been placed over the vision of Christian broadcasters like Premier in London and United Christian Broadcasters. With so much material on television that no parent would want their children to see, we must give a full opportunity for Christians to put forward exciting and wholesome alternatives. The next Conservative Government will ensure that Christians have the same right to national and digital licences as anyone else."

The point about the unsuitable material on television was well made by Mr Carrick.

The vote today will set the precedent for change. The NIUP supports absolutely the right of UCB to have the access that it requires to make use of unused AM frequencies. We support the motion.


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