Spreading the word

Mike Moore and his wife Cheryl decided seven years ago to move to Kununurra, in the extreme north of Western Australia, not far from the Northern Territory.

For many people, the attraction of Kununurra is that it’s the eastern gateway to the Kimberley, one of the most remote and breathtaking landscapes in the world: home of outback 4WD adventure, rugged terrain, an outback sea and giant barramundi.

But for Mike, the attraction was to lend support to an unusual radio project aimed at broadcasting Christian radio programs to some 60 per cent of the world’s population.

‘I guess I got involved because as a Christian our whole aim in life is to help people’, says Mike, who used to run a mechanical repair and hire business and grew up in the West Kimberley town of Derby.

‘And I could see that radio could help a lot of people in the Third World countries. We decided to chuck in the money side of things and come with HCJB where you don’t actually get paid. You get supported by different churches and Christian people.’

Mike is the local manager for HCJB World Radio, a worldwide Christian broadcasting group based in the US. HCJB pioneered evangelical broadcasting in 1931, beaming short-wave programs from a converted sheep shed in Ecuador. These days, it broadcasts to more than 100 countries in 120 languages. And depending on the target audience, the group uses short-wave, AM and FM radio, satellite, TV and the internet to get its evangelical messages out.

HCJB is the radio call sign originally in Ecuador. From that, a motto has been created: ‘The motto is “Heralding Christ Jesus Blessings” but that’s not our name, our name is HCJB’, says Mike.

In October, HCJB announced that it had finally cleared seven years of red tape and local opposition and had the go ahead from the Western Australian Government to lease Crown land to extend its broadcasting centre several kilometres outside Kununurra.

Although it already broadcasts radio programs in 11 languages to the Asia Pacific region from Kununurra, HCJB plans to expand its short-wave broadcasts by leasing the extra land and building another 31 radio towers some 90 metres high.

The Kununurra towers would take programs produced at HCJB’s Melbourne studios and broadcast them further into the Asia Pacific region. In all, the new towers would cost an estimated $20 million. But for the past three years, emotions have run high over the proposal.

Long-time Kununurra resident Keith Wright is a vocal opponent who says there are still widespread concerns, especially given the rise in terrorism around the world in recent years.

‘In Perth, you’re about 1,800 kilometres away from your nearest Muslim country’, says Keith, who is also a shire councillor. ‘We’re about 180 kilometres away from our nearest Muslim country. They’re broadcasting Christian messages to 220 million people in Indonesia, and about 180 million of them are Muslim.

‘An awful lot of people have voiced the opinion, and I tend to be one of them, that it’s probably not a wise choice to potentially make Kununurra, and Australia, the source of this religious indoctrination.’

He says another concern is that the towers would be a ‘blot on the landscape’ and a danger to planes flying scenic tours around the town. He acknowledges that people in other countries could exercise their choice and simply turn off the radio if they didn’t like HCJB’s programs.

‘It’s not the people’s choices we’re concerned about, it’s the fact some of the radical groups or some of the governments in some of these areas might feel we’re inflicting something on them that  they choose that their people shouldn’t be listening to’, he says.

But Mike Moore says the group’s current three towers have been broadcasting Christian short-wave radio for more than 18 months, and there hasn’t been any backlash.

‘No, nothing at all. You must realise there are hundreds of Christian radio stations all around the world broadcasting into Muslim countries and there are hundreds of Muslim radio stations broadcasting into Australia. So it’s a two-way thing. And I think people just accept that. There have been Christian radio stations around for the last 75 years, and there have never been any reprisals against the radio stations.’

He says the programs HCJB sends out don’t need to be modified for Muslim countries.

‘No we don’t because we’re non-political and non-critical. So we send out a positive family message and we send out the Christian message and we don’t make any excuse for that’, he explains.

So are Muslim countries likely to take issue with groups such as HCJB broadcasting Christian programs? President of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, Dr Ameer Ali, says on principle he doesn’t have a problem with Christian groups broadcasting into other countries, saying Australia is a democratic country.

‘Anyone can broadcast any message they want as long as they do not hurt the feelings of another community or another group of people deliberately’, says Dr Ali.

But he says it depends on what is broadcast. With hot spots of religious tension such as Ambon and Central Sulawesi in Indonesia, there could be concerns.

‘If it deliberately broadcast into those regions with the idea of converting the Muslims to Christianity, that might be a problem’, Dr Ali points out. ‘A simple religious message promoting the ideas of Christianity, I don’t think anybody can say anything against it. So that’s harmless. It all depends on what is being broadcast. On principle, I don’t see an objection.’

Anglican Bishop Brian Kyme is of a similar opinion, saying the issue is much the same as Muslim programs shown on community TV in Australia.

‘They’re very informative but if one is simply not interested they can turn off the program’, he points out. ‘I don’t think there’s really a problem with allowing that sort of broadcasting, I can’t see that it’s infringing anyone’s rights’, says Bishop Kyme, who’s Chair of the Anglican Committee for Multicultural Ministry.
However, he sees a wider issue.

‘I have heard some stories about some people who’ve claimed to have been converted through broadcasts’, he says. ‘But I think it would not be to any great extent. In my opinion, the vast sums of money to be spent on short-wave broadcasting to other countries could be spent more effectively.’

Mike Moore believes there’s been a campaign of misinformation waged against the HCJB project over the years, which resulted in a petition with some 800 signatures. But despite that, he says when HCJB held an open day and tour of facilities for those opposed to the project, no one from the town bothered to show up.

‘I think people are realising now that a lot of the nonsense against us was false’, he says.

In October, HCJB announced on its website that it had finally got the green light from the Western Australian Government to expand onto adjacent land. The go ahead marks the end of a long road: HCJB had to get approval from some 19 government departments, as well as native title clearances, and applications to Canberra for four international broadcasting licences. Mike Moore says the local shire has given planning approval in principle and construction on the 31 towers is likely to start in April/May after the wet season.

‘I think one of the main things we have to realise in this whole exercise is that as Christians we believe that we’re doing what God wants us to do and our confidence is in God’, he says. ‘So we’re just a small cog in a big world, just operating under God.’

He said for the project to go ahead ‘we need to be praying to God and relying on Him. It’s not the people who are making it happen, it’s God that’s making it happen’.  

Tony Malkovic is a freelance writer based in Perth. He is a former reporter and producer with ABC TV.



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