Tuesday, June 30, 2009

PBS Bans New Religious Programming

"Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate." -- Ulysses S. Grant

The Public Broadcasting Service agreed yesterday to ban its member stations from airing new religious TV programs, but permitted the handful of stations that already carry "sectarian" shows to continue doing so.

The vote by PBS's board was a compromise from a proposed ban on all religious programming. Such a ban would have forced a few stations around the country to give up their PBS affiliation if they continued to broadcast local church services and religious lectures.

Until now, PBS stations have been required to present programming that is noncommercial, nonpartisan and nonsectarian. But the definition of "nonsectarian" programming was always loosely interpreted, and the rule had never been strictly enforced. PBS began reviewing the definition and application of those rules last year in light of the transition to digital TV and with many stations streaming programs over their Web sites. The definition doesn't cover journalistic programs about religion or discussion programs that don't favor a particular religious point of view.

The vote at PBS's headquarters in Arlington was good news for five PBS member stations that carry religious programs. Among them are KBYU in Salt Lake City, which is operated by an affiliate of the Mormon Church; KMBH in Harlingen, Tex., operated by the local Catholic diocese; and WLAE in New Orleans, operated by a Catholic lay organization ...

This seems like a pretty obvious move, but you just never know. Separation of church and state is fairly cut and dried, but there have always been (and continue to be notable exceptions).

This is a move back towards when PBS was actually relevant and programs like NOVA and Cosmos both entertained and taught. I grew up on PBS. We didn't have mindless fluff like the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon when I was growing up and we were better for it.

The politicization of public broadcasting during the Bush years has created a situation that will take years to recover from. Ken Tomlinson tried to starve public broadcasting, while at the same time tainting it with a conservative viewpoint during his tenure under Bush. NPR has done a better job than PBS at staying out of the fray but faced similar cuts in funding.

If anything, it sounds like PBS may have wimped out on the ruling by allowing the few stations to be grandfathered in. You don't hear of atheist programs being on PBS ... or anything for that matter. I know years ago I remember seeing some on cable public access. To be honest, it's not a loss. They were as unbelievably boring as Christian television programs are. Now, be honest, those Christians that read my blog, do you watching Christian programming on television and if so, which shows? The Christian-only stations all seem pretty fringe to me.

Don't get me wrong about religions (or anything) having the right to broadcast. If you can get funding and viewers, by all means, get your own show or even you own network. But, it's not the job of government-funded broadcasting.

I know some of you would have the government's hands out of broadcasting altogether. But I believe in institutions that are for the common good, that are unbiased, and whose decisions are not based on generating a profit. It's where the really good newspapers and news programs of the last 50 years have really dropped the ball. Pleasing stockholders and being afraid to offend advertisers seems more important now. It's not surprising that big stories aren't really broken by the Washington Post's of the world any more. There are no more Woodward and Bernstein's.

If the measure of validity of ideas was how profitable they were, then FOX News would be the center of intellectualism, and Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh would be the smartest people in the world. And that's a truly scary thought.

"I'm completely in favor of the separation of Church and State. My idea is that these two institutions screw us up enough on their own, so both of them together is certain death." -- George Carlin


Laura said...

"If the measure of validity of ideas was how profitable they were, then FOX News would be the center of intellectualism, and Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh would be the smartest people in the world. And that's a truly scary thought."

You realize that, somewhere out there, someone believes just that...

The age of the purely informational, purely educational programming (radio or television) is basically dead. With the exception of NPR and a handful of tv stations. Mass media is about profit and shareholders, and above all (let loose the inner cynic) controlling thought. Do you really think millions of people would care about Brittney Spears if media didn't hype her and basically tell us we should? We've been good little automotons - buying what their sponsors are selling and keeping their profits soaring.

Media is no longer about information, it's about commercialism and profit. So of course the stories that really matter (but that might offend advertisers) don't get the attention they deserve.

Public broadcasting should be PUBLIC. I don't think those funds should be used to support particular religious sects. Now what I would LOVE to see is a religious dialogue show - like a televised Parliament of World Religions - with discussions about substantive issues from different perspectives. That would be fascinating - and probably good for people who have insulated themselves from other points of view to be exposed to.

dbackdad said...

Laura said, "You realize that, somewhere out there, someone believes just that... " -- And that is why FOX is so successful. Those with conservative beliefs, by the very nature of what that means, will follow. They are reluctant to listen to opposing viewpoints. That is why they like FOX and Rush. No other station will ever have FOX's numbers because getting moderates and liberals to flock to anything is like herding cats. Even if you told them that a certain network was "liberal" or left-leaning, they would #1. rightly be skeptical and #2. not be interested anyway (hello ... Air America). I hope that most people are not looking for something to just reinforce their existing prejudices. They are looking for a variety of viewpoints, facts, and not opinions.

Laura said, " ... I would LOVE to see is a religious dialogue show" -- I completely agree. I'm not saying that religion shouldn't be talked about on public TV. It just shouldn't be talked about to the exclusion of all other viewpoints.