The network board of PBS in June will vote on whether to pull affiliate status from stations that broadcast “sectarian” programming, a decision which could affect broadcasts of Mass for shut-ins and other religious programming.
Jennifer Lawson, general manager of WHUT, heads the panel that recommended a board vote on religious programming. She told the Washington Post that the intent of the action is to demonstrate editorial independence.
PBS bylaws call for non-commercial, non-partisan, and non-sectarian programming. However, the network’s editorial policy also calls for “integrity, quality, diversity and local station autonomy,” the Television Broadcast Newsletter reports.
“PBS believes that public broadcasting's greatest potential is realized when it serves the unique needs of the local community, and that there are wide variations in local needs and tastes,” the policy reads. “No one is better qualified to determine and respond to those local needs than the public television station licensed to that community.”
Many PBS member stations have carried religious services and Mass for shut-ins for years. Denver’s KBDI-TV has broadcast Mass for Shut-ins since 1966 every Sunday morning. The Archdiocese of Denver estimates 20,000 households tune in to the Mass each week.
WHUT-TV, the PBS affiliate at Howard University in Washington, D.C., has carried a Mass for 13 years. Losing its PBS affiliation would take away its programming lineup of standard PBS shows. WHUT-TV has already told the Archdiocese of Washington the telecast would be cancelled.
WLAE-TV in New Orleans, partly owned by the local Catholic organization Willwoods Community, has carried a Mass for 25 years without any complaints.
“We’ve built an identity around this. People know us for this,” WLAE vice president and general manager Ron Yager told the Washington Post. “I’m really not totally sure of their reasoning for doing this.”