The members of PBS’ national board have voted to ban any new religious programming from their affiliate stations, citing both concerns about “public trust” and a 25-year-old rule that has never been rigorously enforced. Anticipation of the vote already resulted in one station cancelling its Mass for Shut-Ins.
The 1985 rule in question requires PBS affiliates to air only non-commercial, non-partisan and non-sectarian content.
Reportedly six affiliates broadcast “sectarian” programs produced by local religious groups, such as the Mass for Shut-Ins. These affiliates may retain their current shows and air programs and documentaries that cover sacred or newsworthy topics, Fox News says.
However, no new religious shows can be offered, and the 350 other stations may not air any purely spiritual content.
PBS affiliate WHUT in Washington, D.C. had already decided to end its 13 year tradition of broadcasting a weekly Mass to avoid violating membership rules.
“This is community-based, locally produced programming that fills a community need,” Susan Gibbs, director of Communications for the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, told Fox News.
The Archdiocese of Washington has agreed to pay $60,000 to air its Mass for Shut-Ins on another network.
"PBS is respecting that there is a history of programming," Gibbs added. "It's unfortunate it's not going to continue for us."
Ron Yager, general manager of New Orleans affiliate WLAE, said the station was “very satisfied” that the shut-ins and the home-bound among its viewers can continue to view the daily Mass, which he said was “vital” to them.
KBDI president and CEO Wick Rowland described his station as “very eclectic” with a “huge diversity” of programming, which for a decade has included a weekly Mass.
“No one would mistake us for Catholic television station,” he told Fox News.
PBS affiliate KBYU in Utah is run by Brigham Young University and airs Mormon devotionals. Its managing director Derek Marquis said he was “pleased” by the decision, which he said would allow the station to provide both national PBS content and locally produced content “reflective of the values and mission” of the university.
Federal law does not bar showing religious services on public television. However, the PBS Station Services Committee voiced concerns the broadcast would create the appearance of an official endorsement and “would cause the public's trust in PBS to erode, along with the value of the brand.”
The PBS committee, composed of representatives of local networks, reviewed the network’s bylaws and authored the compromise.
CNA contacted the U.S. Conference for Catholic Bishops’ Communications Office for a reaction to the decision but did not receive a response by press time.