Skip to main content

Beware of Religious Bias in Media Consolidation

"With journalism under threat like never before, we need the companies that either already own these outlets, or plan to extend their reach, to be unequivocally neutral—both ideologically and religiously—and committed to accuracy in their reporting." -Nick Fish, president, American Atheists

The COVID-19 pandemic has yet again shown us that accurate truthful information is critical and can even save lives. For the majority of Americans, television is the primary way they get their local news. For these viewers, it’s critical that our local broadcast news is robust and able to cover stories factually and thoroughly. Each year, the broadcast media landscape becomes more and more consolidated, leaving broadcast news in just a few powerful hands.

And now, the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), backed by the private equity firm Najafi Companies, is trying to get into the game. TBN is attempting to purchase Tegna, a nationwide network of 65 television stations across the country. Trinity Broadcast Network says that its mission is “To use every available means to reach as many individuals and families as possible with the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ.” They have been instrumental in providing a platform for those who preach the so-called “prosperity gospel.”

But this isn’t just a case of religious broadcasters looking to gain a foothold in more than 50 markets nationwide—it’s another example of investors putting profits above the public good. This take-over bid by TBN is supported by activist hedge fund Standard General and its CEO Soohyung Kim.

Previous single-station acquisitions by Trinity Broadcasting Network have resulted in the news station going dark as its content is replaced by programming from TBN. It’s probable that if TBN should acquire Tegna, they would shut down its news operations and use the channels to increase the distribution of its Christian and right-wing media programming. Markets like Tucson, Hartford, and Seattle could see factual news programming replaced with TBN shows such as Huckabee, Praise, and Jesus the Game Changer.

Even more alarmingly, Trinity Broadcasting Network could simply produce its own Christian-based news segments and insert these propaganda pieces into the existing trusted newscasts.

Local, unbiased, and accurate news is critical. With journalism under threat like never before, we need the companies that either already own these outlets, or plan to extend their reach, to be unequivocally neutral—both ideologically and religiously—and committed to accuracy in their reporting. We can’t let one hedge fund’s drive for profit above all else result in biased, far-right Christian television programming replacing 65 news stations across the country.

I’m deeply troubled that activist investors like Standard General and Kim are putting their desire for more profit ahead of our nation’s need for quality local journalism and news stations. Broadcast news plays a crucial function in communities across the nation, especially in the midst of a nationwide crisis like we’re facing now.

Trinity Broadcasting Network’s acquisition of Tegna would open the door to prosperity gospel-style propaganda, misinformation, and bias at a time when our communities desperately need science-based reporting and information about health, the environment, and government.

Nick Fish is president of the church/state separation watchdog organization, American Atheists.