A new survey found that about 5.3 million Iraqis, or about 19 percent of the population, watch the Christian satellite programs on SAT-7, the ministry reported Friday.
As Iraq's tiny Christian community numbers less than 600,000, it is safe to say that most of SAT-7's viewers are Muslims. According to the CIA World Factbook, 97 percent of Iraq's population is Muslim (Shia 60-65 percent, Sunni 32-37 percent).
Data collected in the recent nationwide study conducted by Intermedia, an independent audience research firm, found that 97 percent of Iraqis have access to satellite television, and 18.8 percent watch SAT-7. The study also found that 2.6 million are watching on a regular daily or weekly basis.
SAT-7 is a Christian television ministry created by and for the people of the Middle East and North Africa. Its mission is to make Christ's message of hope available to every home in the Middle East.
Each week, between nine and ten million people tune into the network, whose programs are broadcasted in three languages – Arabic, Farsi and Turkish.
The study by Intermedia found that SAT-7 is only 1.7 percentage points behind BBC Arabic in the number of people aware of the channel.
"It's quite amazing when you consider that BBC Arabic has an annual budget of 25 million British pounds," says SAT-7 CEO Terence Ascott. "A year ago when the BBC channel launched, that amount was worth about 50 million dollars. SAT-7's total budget, split among three channels in 2008, was only 13 million dollars. Talk about value for your money!"
In addition to effective use of funds, SAT-7 says it is also glad that it can provide desperately needed support to the struggling Christian community in Iraq.
"Iraqi Christians have really suffered in recent years and many have fled the country," says David Harder, SAT-7's communications manager. "Iraqis often call and text us asking for prayer. Fortunately, through our programs, SAT-7's Arabic producers and hosts can show God's love and offer encouragement."
Though SAT-7 has for years been aware of its impact in Iraq from the responses they receive, the recent study has confirmed to the ministry just how far they are reaching.
"[N]ow we know that literally millions of Iraqis, Christian and non-Christian, are watching the broadcasts," Harder said.
Established in November 1995, SAT-7 aired its first broadcast in May 1996. Aside from strengthening believers, the satellite TV ministry has been working to present a more accurate image of Christianity in the Arab world, where people often associate Christians with negative images from the Western world.