TUSTIN — The Federal Communications Commission, citing evidence that Trinity Broadcasting Network used a minority "front" to acquire television stations, on Tuesday ordered a hearing to decide whether to strip the Orange County-based religious network of its station in Miami.
If the FCC finds at the July 8 hearing that Trinity acted improperly, it may also fine the 24-hour-a-day Christian programming service $250,000.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday April 15, 1993 Orange County Edition Business Part D Page 2 Column 3 Financial Desk 2 inches; 49 words Type of Material: Correction
Trinity Broadcasting--In a story Wednesday about Tustin-based Trinity Broadcasting Network, attorney David Honig's client was reported incorrectly. The client, Spanish American League Against Discrimination, is a Florida civil rights group that has joined Glendale Broadcasting in challenging Trinity's right to operate WHFT-TV in Miami.
"After consideration of the factual allegations," the FCC found in a 3-0 ruling, released April 7, that "we believe that a (preliminary) case has been made with regard to the alleged exercise of control" by Trinity over an affiliated company, National Minority TV.
Trinity owns 12 full-power stations in the United States, including flagship KTBN Channel 40 in Tustin, and dozens more around the world. Paul F. Crouch, founder and president of Trinity, is also president and chairman of National Minority TV, which, along with the Miami station owns a station in Portland, Ore., also affiliated with Trinity.
In an accompanying press release, the FCC said it would determine "whether NMTV, Paul F. Crouch, TBN or its affiliates and principals abused the commission's processes by using NMTV to evade the multiple ownership rules and/or by using NMTV to improperly claim minority preferences in low-power television applications."
WHFT Channel 45, the Florida station, operated as a nonprofit, tax-exempt corporation, was acquired 13 years ago by National Minority TV. Until recently, its board of directors included Crouch, who is white; P. Jane Duff, Crouch's assistant at Trinity, who is black; and Anaheim minister Phil Aguilar, a Latino who leads Set Free Ministries and who also appears regularly on Trinity.
Similar charges of Crouch's control of National Minority TV were raised in 1991, and caused the network to withdraw an application to buy a Philadelphia-area station. Shortly thereafter, the Rev. E.V. Hill, a black minister in Los Angeles who also has a program on Trinity, was added to the board.
Crouch, who is in the midst of Trinity's semiannual, weeklong "Praise-a-thon" fund-raiser, could not be reached for comment.
However, in a telephone interview from Washington, Trinity's communications attorney said the FCC's ruling was definitely "not routine," and that "we consider this a serious matter."
The attorney, Colby M. May, said he was confident that Trinity would be cleared when the hearing is held. The challenge to Trinity in this case, May said, was a "residue of the Philadelphia matter" that was never resolved.
David Honig, a Miami attorney representing Glendale Broadcasting Co., which is challenging Trinity for the Miami station, said an FCC ruling against a licensee was "very rare." He said it was only a "partial victory," since the commission did not accept his contention that Trinity had concealed the fact that Aguilar was a convicted felon in its original application for the Florida station.
The attorney, who first raised the control charges in the Philadelphia challenge to Trinity, said the FCC left open the possibility that Trinity could again avoid a commission finding by selling the station, perhaps to a Trinity affiliate, before the hearing.