Broadcaster Alleges Discrimination

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An evangelical radio company is suing the British government in the European Court of Human Rights to gain broadcasting access on a national radio frequency.

United Christian Broadcasters (UCB), based in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, is one of Western Europe's larger religious broadcasters. It has hundreds of thousands of listeners across Europe, but for the past decade the UCB has repeatedly been denied permission to broadcast on national radio frequencies in the United Kingdom.

"That means people with expensive satellites can get us," says Gareth Littler, UCB managing director, "but no one can tune in with a portable radio or in a car— where most people listen to the radio these days."

UCB is restricted by the 1990 Broadcasting Act, which excludes religious ownership of radio licenses. Under this British law, only the British Broadcasting Corporation, a state-owned station, can transmit religious programs nationally. UCB lawyers say this legislation violates the European Convention on Human Rights by denying religious groups the right to national broadcasts.

Other private secular stations have been granted national licenses to play secular shows. Littler calls this "discrimination against righteousness." British lawmakers say the bill was intended to protect the public from fund raising appeals by U.S. televangelists.

Parliament is considering a bill to overturn the ban on national religious radio stations, but despite a preliminary passage of 138 to 9, the bill's chances of becoming law are slim.

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