PBS Just Became a Little More Watchable… June 16, 2009

PBS Just Became a Little More Watchable…

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!)

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Stephan

    The Atheist Experience out of Austin, TX is on cable public access right? So it hopefully won’t be messed with…

    Although in one way I guess you are right, I watch them online. Hell, I don’t even have cable.

  • Not really this story, but I couldn’t help thinking of RM-2493.

  • Syliach

    Can they do away with the infomercials too? I turned it on last week, I think, and there were some gurus on talking about improving you your life through their magic process. It looked like 2+ hours of it.

    Here is the guy I saw http://www.skepdic.com/skeptimedia/skeptimedia30.html

  • Paulmond


    I never see that crap on OETA, the PBS station here in Oklahoma City.

  • TXatheist

    Stephan, no problem watching ACA unless Time Warner changes the agreement on local access channels. I watch it on the net as I have dish. But wasn’t the multipart history of atheism on PBS about 6 months ago or was it some other channel?

  • Please, please, please let this mean they’re getting rid of Deepak Chopra.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Hmmm, all those religious programs already exist, and are protected by a grandfather clause. This means the new guidelines may impact proposed atheist programming more than theistic, since not many PBS atheist programs exist yet, and so are not covered by the grandfather clause.

  • Cherie M

    I’m actually glad they’re keeping a few current religious programs – it will help stem the cry of “PBS hates religion!” from the Christian-right.

    I’m personally -thrilled- that the mormon church can’t use PBS for it’s many, many boring tv shows on the religion. It has enough money to pay for airtime and KBYU has always been overwhelmed by religious programming. Though really, the Catholics should be paying to provide Mass for their shut-ins as well.

  • littlejohn

    Non-sectarian? They run the Foghorn Leghorn McGloppy Group!

  • Erik

    I was flipping through the channel listings a couple of nights ago and PBS had an hour-long program on spontaneous human combustion. I was very disappointed in them.

  • Demetrius Of Pharos

    I’m from Salt Lake and still live there and I can tell you KBYU has been a joke for years. They stopped being relevant long ago. In my atheist discussion group when PBS is brought up, KBYU is an afterthought. Luckily, we have two PBS stations, and while KUED occasionally has religious stuff they wont suffer nearly as much from loosing it.

  • bigjohn756

    I will not support my local PBS television station until they stop presenting woo woo along with the good stuff.

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