With a flurry of recent media deals that include a first-time listing on the New York Stock Exchange and an offer to purchase United Press International (UPI), Pat Robertson has stepped boldly into the mainstream of the broadcast industry. The move has drawn new attention to the 62-year-old Robertson, prompting comparisons of his smaller, but growing media empire with that of Ted Turner.

On April 28, the Family Channel, the commercial cable spin-off of Robertson’s CBN, made its appearance on the exchange, with a $150 million initial public offering of stock. The channel, which offers a mix of family entertainment, including fifties-era sitcoms and westerns, reaches 55 million households. It is owned by International Family Entertainment, Inc. (IFE), which comprises members of Robertson’s family, a Denver-based cable company, and CBN employees.

It was, in fact, the success of the Family Channel that prompted the formation of IFE in 1990, when the Internal Revenue Service warned that CBN could lose its tax-exempt status because of the channel’s commercial growth. Today IFE is valued at $400 million to $450 million, and has seen revenues for the Family Channel double in less than five years, from $62 million in 1988 to $128 million last year.

Critics have complained it is the Robertsons who have gained most from the stock sale. “Is anything illegal in all this?” asks Randall Balmer, associate professor of religion at Columbia University. “Perhaps not.” But Balmer, writing in a Religious News Service column, says building the profitable cable channel on tax-deductible contributions seems irrefutably “unethical.” Robertson told CHRISTIANITY TODAY that CBN, which held two-thirds of the 10 million shares of common stock in the channel, ...

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