- The Washington Times - Monday, December 9, 2002

It's "Crossfire" meets "Fox News Live" with a Christian twist. Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network has introduced a 30-minute weekend news program, "CBN Newswatch," and hopes to attract an audience of both Christians and non-Christians.
"Newswatch," which airs weekly on 16 networks and stations, looks at spiritual, cultural and political issues around the world.
The show first aired Oct. 18. Although ratings figures are not yet available, senior producer Drew Parkhill said he is surprised by the number of people who tell him they have seen the show.
"One of our on-air panelists was telling me that more people see him on 'Newswatch' than on the '700 Club,'" he said.
Executives at CBN had been considering a program like "Newswatch" since the mid-1990s, but momentum picked up after the September 11 attacks, Mr. Parkhill said. CBN had broadcast 60-second news briefs in the days after the attacks, and viewers wanted more.
The show's format is flexible but usually comprises several short stories, one or two longer reports and a round-table discussion. The show also competes for prominent guests. Friday's show featured Kenneth Pollack, author of "The Threatening Storm" and a specialist on U.S.-Iraqi relations.
The show isn't aimed only at Christian viewers, Mr. Parkhill said. He hopes to reach a wide audience by covering a broad spectrum of stories, including cultural and technological developments. One topic of interest is the relationship between technology and privacy.
But "Newswatch" also covers stories of religious interest, such as what Christians are accomplishing on Capitol Hill and how pro-life Christians have helped Republicans reclaim the Senate.
"It's a response to demand. There is such a remarkable hunger out there among Christian stations, independent stations, cable networks," Mr. Parkhill said. "And it's not limited to spiritual stories. People feel like the big media may not give the whole story."
"Newswatch" seeks to avoid putting a Christian slant on the news, Mr. Parkhill said.
"I insist on getting points of view represented," he said. "We're not doing video editorials, we're doing stories."
Religious issues typically have been underreported. No major American TV network has a full-time religion reporter even though religion has polled out many times as Americans' favorite leisure activity. ABC retained Dallas broadcaster Peggy Wehmeyer for seven years to report on the topic, then laid her off in 2001.
Print journalism has far more resources devoted to the topic. The Ohio-based Religion Newswriters Association has 240 members who cover religion full or part time for secular news outlets.
"People tend to question the trustworthiness of the media on religious issues," said Mr. Parkhill, who chalks up bad reporting to unfamiliarity.

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