Define religious programming

choprapbsWashington Post reporter Paul Farhi had a solid story about a new PBS ban on religious programming. Basically the board decided to forbid member stations from airing new religious programs but permitted those that already carry "sectarian" shows to continue to do so. It was a compromise from a proposed ban on all religious programming such as local church services or religious lectures. The story is interesting and discusses five of the member stations that carry religious programming. It also explores an interesting local angle:

The vote also means that WHUT, operated by Howard University in the District, won't be required to drop its telecasts of "Mass for Shut-Ins," a weekly Catholic Mass that has aired on the station since 1996 and locally in Washington for more than 50 years.

But, warned by PBS of the upcoming review, WHUT put the program's producer, the Archdiocese of Washington, on notice that it would drop the program if the PBS board voted to ban religious programs. The archdiocese then made alternative arrangements, negotiating a contract with WDCW (Channel 50) to pick up the half-hour program on Sunday mornings.

Moving the program, which is broadcast free by WHUT, will be disruptive to viewers, said Susan Gibbs, the archdiocese's spokeswoman, and expensive -- the contract with WDCW will cost $60,000 per year.

I never knew that PBS affiliates broadcast masses or other local religious programming but the thing that surprised me the most about this story was that it doesn't mention the religious figure I most closely associate with PBS: Deepak Chopra, the New Age spiritualist author and periodical host of programs on PBS. What happens to the Chopra programming? Or what about Eckhart Tolle? I caught one of his PBS specials a year or so ago and was shocked that it was considered appropriate for public broadcasting.

The bottom line: Does the PBS board think that New age lectures are fine but liturgies aren't? Is this another sign of the whole "spiritual" vs. "religious" divide in the culture?

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