Features

Satellite squabble

National

Issue: "Nuclear threat in Korea," Aug. 16, 2003

Needed: a Solomon to settle a lawsuit involving two Christian TV networks and two satellite TV providers.

It all began in 1996 when Florida-based Sky Angel, a Christian TV satellite company, signed an agreement with Colorado-based Dish Network, the giant satellite operator. Under it, Sky Angel-which uses space on Dish's satellite infrastructure-agreed to air only Christian/religious programs, and Dish agreed to give exclusive rights to Sky Angel for Christian/ religious programming with the grandfathered exceptions of Trinity Broadcast Network and the Catholic-oriented Eternal Word Network.

Last December, however, to meet its federally mandated requirement to devote 4 percent of capacity to public-service programming, Dish started carrying Southern BaptistÐowned FamilyNet and charismatic-oriented Daystar Network. Sky Angel objected, saying Dish had violated the agreement. Dish said it hadn't sought out the broadcasters, and that they weren't so much "Christian" as they were "family-values" broadcasters. In April, Sky Angel's parent company, Dominion Video Satellite, sued Dish's parent, EchoStar Satellite, seeking to enforce the agreement.

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A federal judge in Denver issued an injunction last month demanding that EchoStar Dish shed FamilyNet and Daystar. Officials at the two TV networks began scrambling to find cable channels they could use instead. Daystar founder Marcus Lamb lashed out angrily on the air at Dominion Sky Angel president Robert Johnson, accusing him of impeding gospel outreach. Mr. Johnson said he was only seeking Dish's compliance with the agreement; without it, Sky Angel could fail, he suggested.

Sky Angel recently applied to become a member of National Religious Broadcasters. NRB chairman Glenn Plummer (Sky Angel carries his Christian Television Network) wrote letters to leaders of Daystar, FamilyNet, and Sky Angel, urging reconciliation, Charisma magazine reported. The case could come before the NRB Ethics Committee.

The judge turned down a bid from Daystar's Mr. Lamb to join the lawsuit on Dish's side, but suspended the injunction, at least for now.

Court hearings are scheduled to begin next month.

Edward E. Plowman
Edward E. Plowman

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