PBS Stations May Have To Lose Their Religion


The muckety-mucks at PBS headquarters are looking closely at instituting a rule that would strip a public television station of its PBS affiliation if it broadcast any religious shows.

The measure is to be voted on next month and it’s already causing ripples across the nation’s network of public TV stations, which broadcast a mix of local favourites (such as Mass For Shut-Ins in Washington, D.C.) to highly regarded PBS fare such as Frontline and The News Hour with Jim Lehrer.
We’re no great fans of organised religion, but it seems like from the point of view of community service, a local station should be able to reflect its community without the threat of losing its ability to broadcast an important educational program such as Sesame Street.

According to a story in today’s Washington Post, stations have begun wrestling with the possibilities of the rule.

A strict ban would leave stations such as WLAE in New Orleans with a dilemma: Stop airing its daily telecast of Catholic Mass or end its affiliation with PBS. The station, which is partly owned by a Catholic lay group, has been presenting the morning Mass since it went on the air in 1984.

“We don’t want to lose our association with PBS, because they provide a lot of fine programs,” said Ron Yager, the station’s vice president and general manager. “But at the same time, we need to serve our community. We’ve built an identity around this. People know us for this.”

Yager said his station has never received a complaint about the Mass telecast in the 25 years it has aired. “I’m really not totally sure of their reasoning for doing this,” he said.

It seems strange that PBS would be so strict about what the local stations air (even considering that PBS and organised religion share a special gift for pestering members for donations).

There has been a fair amount of controversy around PBS stations using New Age personalities and popular alternative medicine gurus to power their pledge drives. A recent piece in Salon discussed a PBS show hosted by Mark Hyman, a doctor whose “UltraMind Solution” package of books, DVDs and home questionnaires, is built on the belief that “diseases don’t exist.”

And in 1998, PBS aired a pledge special titled “How to Live Forever by Gary Null”—a show featuring Null’s alternative healing practicts he said could help viewers live well into their 100s. That sparked an email exchange among station managers in which KBDI Denver manager Ted Krichels asked, “Are the ‘gurus of the month’ using our air to hawk snake oil, or are they cutting-edge, New Age thinkers leading the way into the next century? Do we care as long as we get our cut?”

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