Wednesday, June 24, 2009

U.S. Public Television to Disallow Any New Religious Programming


Kathleen Gilbert

ARLINGTON, Virginia, June 17, 2009 ( - In a move some consider a "phasing out" of publicly broadcast religious content, Leaders of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) have issued regulations disallowing any new "sectarian" shows to be added to its repertoire, reports FOX News.

While the six stations that currently broadcast heavily religious shows, such as the popular Catholic Mass broadcasts, will not need to drop their programs, none of the 350 other stations will be allowed to begin airing such content.

The new decision enforces a loosely-applied 1985 policy prohibiting commercial, partisan, or sectarian content.

Though federal law does not prohibit such programming, the broadcasting company is avowedly cracking down on religious content in order to avoid an appearance of endorsement.

According to a report in the Current, the Station Services Committee that re-examined broadcasting policy earlier this year said it was necessary to embrace the old prohibitions against commercial, political, and sectarian programming, since by carrying such programs “PBS could be hampered in its ability to carry out its mission.”

Because PBS “places a high value on presenting diverse perspectives, as opposed to rigidly adhering to any single political or religious point of view,” allowing such programming “would cause the public’s trust in PBS to erode, along with the value of the brand," said the committee.

However, Station Services Committee Chair Jennifer Lawson told Current that the board did not consider a show like Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, or the documentary Walking the Bible, to be too sectarian.

Religious groups have responded by saying that what the PBS board calls "sectarian," is simply programming that reflects the interests and needs of individual communities.

"This is community-based, locally produced programming that fills a community need," said Susan Gibbs, Communications Director for the Archdiocese of Washington, which broadcasts a weekly Mass on the local station.

The Archdiocese of Washington will have to spend around $60,000 to move its Sunday Mass broadcast to a private station, after local member station WHUT in February called off the broadcast in expectation of a harsher policy from the PBS board.

Gibbs told today that although WHUT verbally reversed the decision late yesterday, the archdiocese had already signed a contract elsewhere. "At the same time, it means coming up with funding in a tight economy," noted Gibbs.

In responding to the news, the Catholic League claimed that the "in-house conversation" over religious programming began in 2005, when PBS faced heat for running a Christmas-themed show and a show about the Bible.

"It never takes much to push secular buttons, but caving in to the voices of intolerance is shameful," said the League in a press release.

"That the religious gag rule is taking place in the age of Obama is not something that has escaped our notice. The stench is unmistakable.”

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