A Challenge to TBN Growth

Los Angeles Times/September 20, 2004
By William Lobdell

The FCC once ruled that a minority-owned company was a scheme to acquire more stations

Televangelist Paul Crouch often blames Satan for the difficulties he encountered building Trinity Broadcasting Network into the world's largest Christian broadcaster. But the most serious challenge TBN has faced was from an earthly source: the Federal Communications Commission.

In 1995, the agency ruled that Crouch had created a "sham" minority company to circumvent limits on the number of television stations his network could own.

Crouch told viewers that the ruling, if allowed to stand, would prevent TBN from acquiring two new stations and, worse, would jeopardize the station licenses it already held.

"The whole network was ultimately on the line," he wrote in his autobiography, "Hello World!"

The controversy centered on National Minority TV, a company created by TBN to buy television stations. TBN itself owned the maximum number then allowed by federal rules - 12.

In 1993, National Minority TV asked the FCC to renew the license of a station it owned in Miami. Advocacy groups complained that the company was a mere front for Crouch and asked the agency not to renew the license.

National Minority TV was run by a three-member board of directors: Crouch; his former administrative assistant, Jane Duff, an African American; and David Espinosa, a Latino pastor.

"So we had it - a minority-controlled board, two to one!" wrote Crouch.

In 1995, an FCC judge ruled that National Minority TV was not minority-controlled but rather was a "sham" by which Crouch had tried to sidestep the ownership limit.

Crouch appealed to the five-member FCC board. He also began negotiating with the advocacy groups, offering them a monetary settlement to drop their challenge.

Crouch turned to TBN viewers for money.

A five-night telethon elicited $65 million in pledges. Crouch offered that sum as a settlement, and the advocacy groups agreed to accept it.

In 1999, however, the FCC rejected the settlement and refused to renew National Minority TV's license for the Miami station.

It said TBN's claim that the company was minority-controlled "was at best doubtful and at worst false."

Crouch appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and won. The court ruled in 2000 that federal rules on minority broadcasting companies were unclear and that TBN "may not be punished."

Congress later raised the limit on station ownership. TBN now owns 23 full-power stations around the country.

Crouch said God was responsible for the happy outcome: "He never loses a case!"

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