For nearly 25 years, PBS has had a rule that all stations must provide “non-commercial, non-partisan and non-sectarian content.” The rule was rarely enforced and it was never hard to find religious programming on the air. You know which programs I’m talking about because when they were on, you automatically changed the channel.
Now, PBS has decided to enforce the rule, with a few exceptions:
Six PBS stations currently broadcast “sectarian” programs produced by local religious groups, including the morning “Mass for Shut-Ins,” which is popular among elderly and ailing Catholics who cannot attend the daily service.
Under the terms of a decision reached by the PBS board Tuesday, those stations can retain their current shows. And all stations can air programs and documentaries that cover sacred topics — even a newsworthy service, like a papal Mass.
But no new religious shows can be offered, and none of the 350 other stations may air any purely spiritual content, a move some groups say is a quiet means of phasing out religion from their airwaves.
Federal law does not bar showing the services on public television, but PBS worries that the broadcasts have the appearance of an official endorsement from the network.
Allowing such programming to air “would cause the public’s trust in PBS to erode, along with the value of the brand,” argued its Stations Services Committee, according to a report in the Current.
There was once a time when PBS was synonymous with series like Cosmos and shows like Nova. That time has long passed.
If this move means more shows dedicated to education and fewer shows showcasing religion, we will all benefit.
Every article I see on the subject seems to cover a couple key stations affected by this rule. For example, KBYU in Utah shows a lot of Mormon theology — they risk losing their affiliation if they don’t drop their religious shows. WLAE in New Orleans shows a Roman Catholic Eucharist every day — they are at risk, too.
I assume this move also means atheist shows will also not be allowed to be aired. (I doubt that’ll be a problem. Does anyone even watch those on TV anymore?)
I’ll say this: This move gives me much more of an incentive to donate money to PBS than any of their dull on-air pleas for cash.
(Thanks to Amy for the link!)