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A higher power behind sat-TV protest?

They say politics makes strange bedfellows, and here's a pair of the strangest: News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch—
slammed by some Christian broadcasters as a purveyor of sleaze—and a coalition of Christian broadcasters.

Last week, six religious programmers presented to the Justice Department nearly half a million petitions against EchoStar's planned merger with DirecTV. The National Religious Broadcasters group also opposes the merger.

But other religious broadcasters are upset because they believe that opposition is the result of meetings with Murdoch and what they say was his offer of carriage in exchange for help blocking the merger. Murdoch last year tried to buy DirecTV himself, but EchoStar emerged a last-minute victor.

"I believe the recent stand by the executive committee of the National Religious Broadcasters to oppose the merger may be the result of a meeting that Louis Sheldon, head of the Traditional Values Coalition, arranged with Rupert Murdoch," wrote David Clark, president of FamilyNet and former NRB chairman, to Attorney General John Ashcroft and FCC Chairman Michael Powell.

According to Clark and others, NRB members met with Murdoch in early March. Murdoch told them he would commit to airing more religious programming, said one attendee, if Murdoch eventually ended up owning DirecTV.

"Murdoch did give us assurances," said Glenn Plummer, NRB chairman.

"This is ... not a quid pro quo," said a Murdoch spokesman. "They asked Charlie [Ergen, EchoStar CEO] the same question, and they were not pleased with his response."

"We are at a loss to understand," said Marc Lumpkin, EchoStar spokesman, "why these ministers would protest two companies that provide the most religious broadcasting available in the U.S. today."

Through Dominion Sky Angel, EchoStar customers can subscribe to 36 religious audio and video networks. Combined, EchoStar and DirecTV also carry 13 religious networks, although some are on Spanish-language tiers.