Friday, June 5, 2009

Message to PBS: The masses want the Mass

PBS is thinking about striking 'sectarian' programming from its line-up. If you don’t like the idea, let ‘em know by June 12, 2009. Why should PBS take the Mass from the masses?

As viewers from PBS Pledge Weeks know, PBS wants to receive your money. Let PBS receive your message too – that you want viewers to be able to access religious programming, including church services, such as the Mass.

Responding to people who want church services on the air, won’t put PBS out anything. Airing the Mass does not make PBS give up prime time. The Mass generally airs in the morning. It’s a gift to shut-ins who otherwise cannot experience the service that comforts them. Anyone who’s ever watched a TV Mass with someone who until old age went to Mass every day or even every Sunday knows the consolation this experience gives a growing segment of our society.

No one’s asking PBS to pay for the programming. People just want to have access to the Mass. The airwaves belong to us all, so church people aren’t asking any undue favor when they seek to have the airwaves they own be used for what they want.

Details: The Public Broadcasting Service (“PBS”) is poised to vote on June 14-15 on a revised programming policy for its affiliated TV stations which, among other policies, would not permit them to air “sectarian” programs. Part of its decision will include a definition of “sectarian.” PBS’s proposed definition appears to allow airing of such programs as “The Face: Jesus in Art” and “Walking the Bible,” but to exclude from its stations programs which consist of religious services (such as the Mass).

At a meeting with staff of the U.S. bishops, PBS spokespersons said that its upcoming decision will be an attempt to balance the need for its affiliates to meet their statutory requirement to meet local needs and interests with a desire to prevent the PBS “brand” from being associated with particular religious views and beliefs. PBS is a private corporation whose members are the TV stations affiliated with PBS. It is not a government agency, so constitutional concerns and arguments are not germane to this proposed policy. Nevertheless, PBS’ decision can be influenced by the opinions not only of its member-stations, but of the affected communities.

The national PBS leadership is receiving comments on its proposed “no sectarian program” rule from its affiliates, which include several stations owned by religious entities. Those include WLAE, a New Orleans PBS affiliate owned by a lay Catholic organization; KMBH, a Brownsville PBS affiliate owned by the Diocese of Brownsville; and KBYU, a PBS affiliate owned by a division of Brigham Young University. The Archdiocese of Washington already has been informed by WHUT in Washington, D.C. that its Mass for shut-ins, which had been aired for years on that station, will be dropped.

PBS staff told USCCB that the decision-making committee would find community reaction helpful. If you have a reaction to this proposed decision, please send an email or fax to: Helen Osman, Secretary of Communications, USCCB at or 202/541-3129 before June 12, 2009. We will forward these comments to PBS immediately.

More information on this topic can be found at

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