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October 1, 1997

Are cartoons, gardens, golf, and recycled comedy more important to Canadians than God ? It looks like they are if we put any weight in how a recent shuffle on the television dial has realigned what's available for entertainment and education.

Earlier this month, 16 new channels were introduced to cable viewers, a package called Me TV, and to make room for Me, God got bumped. Now doesn't that sound familiar ? This time, God, as He's interpreted by Vision TV, got bumped up the dial by most Rogers Cable locations into near obscurity on channels 59 and 78. Blundering naively into the world of television priorities, I called Rogers to tell them many felt faith was an important part of the cultural fabric and asked if they weren't undermining something critical to our society. There was a polite pause.

"We're running a business and positioning for us is based on what we feel interests Canadians," said Rogers spokesperson Jan Innes. The cable giant has done it's homework and their data on customer feedback and audience numbers tells them faith can be set off the beaten track of the remote control.

Channel 59 is what hundreds of apartment buildings have been using for their lobby security channel. Tuning in for Vision, over 125,000 apartment dwellers found who's coming to see the neighbors, not the faith programs they were looking for. Vision's switchboard jammed losing count at over 700 complaining calls the first week, while Rogers has automated voice mail designated to direct the apartment lobby complaints. Vision marched off to the CRTC to file a protest, Rogers extended a peace offering, giving channel 78 to Vision as well. Not good enough said the feisty faith channel filed as it filed a second CRTC complaint, saying half of cable subscribers can't reach past 59. If that's the problem, Rogers want you to call them and get a lesson in how to reprogram your remote and your tv . Truth is, anyone living with outdated technology, the frugal senior or low income parent, has had their chance at a faith channel wiped out by ME TV.

So why should you care ? For me it's about little picture and big picture, here's the little picture: Statistics Canada says millions of Canadians spend at least 23 hours a week in front of their television sets. I have the privilege of being a broadcaster on Vision with 100 Huntley Street where we have a night time audience at 11 pm. All through the night, our staff take phone calls from viewers who need to know they aren't alone and that they can access God in prayer. We're the only television program that's listed in the front of the phone book as a distress centre, a place where suicide calls are handled professionally and prayerfully. Our files can find hundreds of examples where faith changed lives, God renewed hope, and actions were impacted in positive ways. It's a little picture, and if that sounds like a commercial, so be it, faith on television is worth fighting for.

Then there's the big picture; the fact that the future of our world depends on how we respond to God. If that sounds grandiose, look back at the history of civilization, religion has been the motivator that shaped our past. Father Joseph Koterski, a New York Professor of Philosophy puts it this way; "As the vision of human dignity made in the image and likeness of God continued to develop, it required the constant development of social forms worthy of such a being; schools and universities for the training of the mind, civil and economic organizations that protected the common good and personal labor ...."

There's history books full of the proof, McMaster University, Sick Children's Hospital, even the founding of Canada and it's Bible verse constitutional framework of "He shall have dominion from sea to sea," were created out of human response to God's sovereignty.

God is good for our country, that's the big picture of why we need keep religion mainstream in television and you can do something about it. Write to Mr. Ted Rogers at Rogers Cable, 855 York Mills Road, Don Mills, Ontario, M3B 1Z1 and the CRTC at Ottawa, Ontario, K1A ON2 and help television power adjust their market research into what customers think is important.

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