KBYU in Danger of Being Stripped of PBS Affiliation

May 15, 2009 | 37 comments
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According to a Washington Post article set to appear in tomorrow’s paper, KBYU may be in serious danger of losing its PBS affiliation if it continues to air Latter-day Saint devotionals and other religious programming. The Post writes:

The Public Broadcasting Service’s board is to vote next month on a committee’s recommendation to strip the affiliation of any station that carries “sectarian” content. Losing its PBS relationship would mean that a station could no longer broadcast programs that the service distributes, from “Sesame Street” to “Frontline.”

PBS’s governing policy states that “PBS Member Stations shall provide only nonsectarian, nonpolitical, noncommercial educational content on all broadcast channel(s) and related media distribution platforms that use the PBS and/or PBS member brands.” But the Post notes that the “definition of ‘nonsectarian’ programming has always been loosely interpreted, and the rule has never been strictly enforced, according to PBS officials.”

The stricter interpretation of the PBS policy wouldn’t prohibit programs that cover religious topics per se, just the “religious services of faith-based groups.” This nonetheless seems like an interpretive nightmare as what exactly constitutes the “religious services of faith-based groups” is far from clear. Does Music and the Spoken Word make the cut? What about a Mormon Tabernacle Choir concert? The First Presidency’s Christmas or Easter messages?

KBYU is not the only station that stands to be affected by this, but unlike stations such as Howard University’s WHUT in Washington, D.C., which has signaled that it will cut its religious programming if the stricter interpretation of the Policy is approved, it’s unclear to me what the Church/BYU will do in this situation. Given that BYUTV is now widely available, I know some who don’t really see this as that big of deal. Barring religious programming (whatever that means exactly) strikes me as problematic though. What should be done here? Is this worth a fight?

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37 Responses to KBYU in Danger of Being Stripped of PBS Affiliation

  1. aloysiusmiller on May 15, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    And the problem with losing a PBS affiliation is…?

  2. Sam B. on May 15, 2009 at 10:56 pm

    You mean besides losing access to Sesame Street and other PBS programming (like it says both in the article and in the post)?

  3. Marc Bohn on May 15, 2009 at 10:58 pm

    Err… you don’t see a problem with losing the majority of KBYU’s current content, much of it high quality fare? I guess the alternative is to just let KBYU become another BYUTV, airing devotionals, education week and women’s conference around the clock.

  4. Phouchg on May 15, 2009 at 11:50 pm

    It is fortunate that KUED is more like a “typical” PBS station so that viewers won’t lose access to PBS programming should KBYU lose its PBS affiliation.

    I suspect that if this comes to pass, KBYU and BYUTV will essentially be one in the same.

  5. jjohnsen on May 15, 2009 at 11:54 pm

    I can’t imagine why they’d need KBYU and BYUTV if they lost PBS. I doubt they have enough programming to fill both channels. There is already another PBS station in Utah, so it wouldn’t be much of a loss.

  6. queuno on May 16, 2009 at 12:37 am

    I worked at KBYU when I was a student in the 90s. The people who ran it at that time would gladly have given up PBS before anything else…

  7. Craig H. on May 16, 2009 at 2:12 am

    Give up PBS and start looking more like EWTN?

  8. MAC on May 16, 2009 at 4:08 am

    nonpolitical

    I have some acquaintances who work at PBS headquarters. The political mix there pretty much mirrors that of the women’s studies faculty at Columbia.

  9. S.Faux on May 16, 2009 at 4:24 am

    Here is the link to the Washington Post article: “PBS weighs separation of church and stations.” [Admin: Fixed the link above, thanks]

    I live in the midwest and subscribe to KBYU through DISH satellite. It is irritating how PBS views religion (“sectarian content”) as having an inferior status. Religious speech is disrespected.

    Viewers have intelligence. We can tell which programs are LDS sponsored and which are PBS sponsored.

    PBS (supported by financial donations from viewers) really needs to realize that viewers have options. For example, KBYU viewers would rather drop PBS than drop LDS Conference on TV.

    So, go ahead PBS. Shoot yourself in the foot.

  10. S.Faux on May 16, 2009 at 4:53 am

    I recommend that KBYU viewers write PBS at their Site Feedback page.

    They claim to listen to viewers. We will see.

  11. S.Faux on May 16, 2009 at 5:05 am

    This is what I wrote PBS, using the link above:

    “Dear PBS:

    I am very disturbed to read “PBS weighs separation of church & stations” in the Washington Post.

    Religious speech SHOULD be allowed on the same station that broadcasts PBS programming.

    Viewers are intelligent and can distinguish religion from PBS.

    Your high quality shows need to be seen in as many venues as possible.

    Stop treating religious viewers like second class citizens.”

  12. Dan on May 16, 2009 at 6:43 am

    There are too many TV channels out there anyways. Better to get the kids to not watch TV.

  13. Mark D. on May 16, 2009 at 7:42 am

    I agree that PBS is shooting itself in the foot here. The only thing they will gain from this action is a lower funding base, lower viewership, and lower public support.

    If KBYU loses its PBS affiliation, I suspect it will likely mean the end of KBYU-TV. It probably costs about two million dollars a year to maintain KBYU-TVs over-the-air broadcast network (including 60+ translator stations), and with a sharply reduced viewership and the wide availability of BYU-TV through other channels, it doesn’t seem likely that the funding to essentially broadcast BYU-TV over the air will be viewed as particularly cost effective. KSL has general conference covered.

  14. Floyd the Wonderdog on May 16, 2009 at 7:46 am

    So are they going to shut down the rest of the PBS stations for showing the overtly political shows like “Frontline”? Why do we even need publicly funded stations at all?

  15. Mark D. on May 16, 2009 at 8:06 am

    Also, due to the existence of KUED in the same area, the prospects for a KBYU-TV without any LDS programming appear to be essentially nil. I doubt BYU or the Church would have any particular interest in subsidizing a KUED clone. We can only guess what KBYU-TVs direct subsidy is, but by way of comparison KUED has been receiving $2.4 million/year from the state, $1.5 million/year from the feds, and $2.0 million/year from viewer contributions.

    I seriously doubt that KBYU-TV receives state funding of any kind, I’m not sure about federal grants. One might well guess that the Church subsidy to run KBYU-TV as a run of the mill PBS station would amount to at least $1.0 million/year (not counting the costs allocable to BYU-TV). That seems unsupportable to me.

  16. aloysiusmiller on May 16, 2009 at 8:22 am

    PBS sells programming to commercial entities. You can listen to NPR over satellite radio. I’ll bet they would sell KBYU anything it wanted even if the affiliation was no longer “official”. I suspect that PBS has much more to lose than KBYU and that this little threat will go the way of all empty threats.

  17. Mark D. on May 16, 2009 at 8:34 am

    16: KBYU-TV probably receives $1.5 million/year in programming subsidies from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which is essentially a proxy for the federal government. If those subsidies go away, KBYU-TV would probably have to double its viewer contributions to pay the full cost of PBS programming (or start running lots of commercials). Neither seems likely, given the continued existence of KUED.

  18. Dan on May 16, 2009 at 9:00 am

    I never understood why Utah needed a second PBS channel to begin with. Who watches PBS anyway when you can get such outstanding programming on commercial TV as American Idol, Married With Children (reruns), Glenn Beck and America’s Funniest Home Videos?

  19. aloysiusmiller on May 16, 2009 at 9:02 am

    17 Oh really!? I thought that all the PBS stations had to pay PBS for their programming. Is the programming subsidy a discount over the “street price”?

    My suspicion is that PBS would still sell programming to KBYU at a discount because they need the money. If KBYU is able to and did purchase programming they could possibly reduce their programming purchases in favor of other alternatives. I also suspect that there is more than one broadcaster in the PBS network that carries religious programming that they really don’t want to offend.

    This isn’t a credible threat.

  20. Liz Busby on May 16, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    18 – Never watched anything other than PBS until I was 15-ish. Also, two PBS stations means you have two chances to catch a show, two options as to what you wanted. Actually, with digital TV, there are now 4 PBS-like stations: 7.1, 7.2, 11.1, and 11.4. THough I also love CSI and House, in general I mostly watch PBS since the program quality is a lot higher.

  21. Steven on May 16, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    Three of the four stations they mentioned in the Post article as being affected serve Utah, New Orleans, and Washington, DC. These three markets each have another PBS affiliate (and the DC one will cut its religious programming before losing PBS). The other one serves Brownsville and Harlingen, TX. That is the ~88th largest TV market in the country, serving 0.3% of the US (the Salt Lake market is ~0.8% of the US – New York plus LA account for over 10% of the US – New Orleans is ~0.5% of the US). None of the four affiliates they mention in the article produce PBS programming. I have no idea what PBS would lose by dropping the few stations that air sectarian programming, but I’m estimating it is very little. If they decide it’s too much, they won’t enforce the ban.

  22. Jim Donaldson on May 16, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    >>Who watches PBS anyway when you can get such outstanding programming on commercial TV as American Idol, Married With Children (reruns), Glenn Beck and America’s Funniest Home Videos?<<

    Aren’t those all the same thing?

  23. Sandy Viewer on May 16, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    Unless a Sacrament meeting or Temple session is broadcast, there are no worship services being broadcast and we can continue business as usual.

    LDS worship, required for temple recomends, does NOT include devotional observation, Easter message listening, etc.

  24. JrL on May 16, 2009 at 4:27 pm

    Re 9: “I live in the midwest and subscribe to KBYU through DISH satellite.” That’s BYUTV, quite different from KBYU, though BYUTV often carries programs that once aired on KBYU. Maybe if the University abandoned or sold KBYU, it could put more into BYUTV programming. Much of it is good, but it’s more than a bit repetitive ….

  25. Mark D. on May 16, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    17: Local stations do not pay anywhere near the full cost of PBS programming. Most of it is paid for by an annual $400 million dollar subsidy from the federal government (to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting). KUED for example theoretically pays the CPB about $3.0 million/year for programming, but $1.5 million/year of that is a federal subsidy, so in practice they have a net cost of about $1.5 million/year for PBS programming, i.e. they pay half of the cost and the federal government pays half of the cost.

    Curiously KUED reports they pay more for advertising, promotion, and marketing ($2.5m/yr) than they actually raise from viewer contributions ($2.0m/yr) – figures as of 2007. That doesn’t make any sense to me.

    I suspect that KBYU-TV’s budget is considerably smaller than KUED’s budget largely because KBYU does not produce anywhere near as much local (Utah oriented, high production cost) programming as KUED does. I have no idea what BYU-TVs budget is, although if I were to guess it is perhaps ~$2m/yr on top of that for KBYU-TV.

    Finally, the most common “sectarian” content that KBYU-TV broadcasts are recordings of BYU devotionals. They broadcast about an hour of those in the early morning and about another hour midmorning on almost every weekday. Other than that, most of their religious programming is on Sunday, about seven hours every Sunday morning.

  26. Ugly Mahana on May 16, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    I oppose any attempt by secularists to limit freedom of (religious) expression. It is intolerant.

  27. TOR on May 16, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    #23, KBYU broadcasts Sacrament meetings (sample worship services that start after the administration of the sacrament) every Sunday morning from a series taped by the church in the late 1990s.

  28. Bookslinger on May 16, 2009 at 10:48 pm

    PBS’s governing policy states that “PBS Member Stations shall provide only nonsectarian, nonpolitical, noncommercial educational content on all broadcast channel(s) and related media distribution platforms that use the PBS and/or PBS member brands.”

    [snort]
    Ugly Mahana has it right. PBS programming is highly politicized to the left, and is sectarian in the atheist/anti-christian persuasion.

  29. T Burrow on May 16, 2009 at 11:38 pm

    PBS carries a lot of programming ABOUT religion. That is one of the things it should do. It is an EDUCATIONAL network. But that is different than carrying religious programming. It should not carry religious (devotional) programming. And I do not see that as being intolerant; I do not see that as an attempt to limit anyone’s freedom of (religious) expression. It has nothing to do with my freedom to express my religious beliefs in an appropriate setting.

  30. Aaron on May 17, 2009 at 5:51 am

    I agree with 29. Why should PBS carry our programming? And if it does, should it carry any religious programming, such as Wiccan or some other strange form of religious belief? As for PBS having a leftish tilt…well, just keep tuned to FOX. You will never be offended by leftish material ever again.

  31. Bro. Jones on May 17, 2009 at 8:03 am

    Boo hoo, big deal. Growing up in Utah I always got my PBS content from KUED anyway. It’s not like the poor embattled families of Utah will have nowhere to turn for their Elmo fix.

    Even as a kid, I was like: “Mom, why do the Mormons need their own PBS?”

  32. sscenter on May 17, 2009 at 8:59 am

    What if we just acknowledged that PBS should be eliminated entirely. Television is not a right nor is it important. With a deficit that with the Obama/Bush brothers is skyrocketing past 10 TRILLION dollars perhaps we should stop funding such items.

  33. Mark D. on May 17, 2009 at 10:56 am

    30: PBS does not carry any of our programming. KBYU-TV is a PBS member station – it is not owned or controlled by PBS. It is comparable to the relationship between KSL and NBC.

    If PBS was a privately funded entity, no one would have any reason to complain about its leftward tilt. No more than CNN or MSNBC at any rate. As it stands however, PBS proper (the CPB) is essentially an agency of the federal government, and most of the stations (such as KUED) are owned and operated by state institutions. People have reason to complain when their tax dollars are used to fund programs that uniformly come from one side of the political spectrum.

    From a viewer’s perspective, a second station carrying PBS programming on a different schedule makes it easier to avoid missing worthwhile programming. KBYU-TV carries a lot of non-religious programming that KUED doesn’t – notably college volleyball and rebroadcasts of classic movies. KUED, however, carries more Utah oriented historical programming – mostly because they produce it themselves.

  34. Aloysiusmiller on May 17, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    TV is so yesterday. PBS is over. It is time to move on.

  35. Mark D. on May 17, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    Not nearly as yesterday as newspapers are…

  36. Jonovitch on May 17, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    My email (and maybe letter) to PBS:

    I just read about PBS’ threat. It’s actually thinking about tossing a handful of station affiliations overboard because of their occasional, local, “sectarian” programming. How absurd. If you claim PBS is an educational resource for the purpose of producing educational programming, you can do the same for all programming. What if I want to learn more about a Catholic mass? What if I want to learn more about a Mormon devotional? I simply tune in to the daily airing on the local affiliate. Has PBS ever fielded a complaint about this? Has this ever caused a real problem for anyone watching? Nope, not really. Now let’s compare this with a more “neutral” program.

    If you’re going to be honest about your bylaws, under the same logic you’ll have to toss “Frontline” due to it’s all-too political nature. (I love it and watch it a lot, but we’re not fooling anybody here.) You get a lot more complaints, or rather “discussion” from both sides, about that national “investigative” journalism aired on Tuesday nights.

    Here’s a novel idea: let local stations air local programming that’s supported by local viewers, even if it’s somewhat “sectarian” — and allow them to run the standard national PBS fare the other 23 hours of the day. Brilliant!

    Don’t throw your hands in the air and innocently claim “it’s in the by-laws, we have no choice!” And don’t insult vast swaths of your viewers by claiming they are incapable of discerning religious programming from political programming from whatever other programming.

    You don’t have to protect us from those big, bad religious types. They might actually be helping the very viewers you are trying to “protect” with your bylaws. (Again, the very idea is insulting.) The problem is not that there is too much religious programming on PBS. The problem is that there is not enough on PBS.

    You might claim that other stations already do religious programming, and it’s not PBS’ place to provide another outlet. But you’d be missing the point. On what other station would you be able to find a Catholic mass, a Mormon devotional, a Jewish bar mitzvah, a Muslim call to prayer, a Buddhist meditation, etc. all in one week? PBS has a choice: it could stick its head in the sand and ban all “sectarian” programming, or it could be that source of diverse perspectives and truly become a beacon of tolerance of widely independent thoughts.

    It would do us all a lot of good if PBS actually encouraged its affiliates to air a wide variety of “sectarian” programming, especially those already airing some. You could even do so under the guise of providing “educational” content. Everybody wins! Everybody gets more local programming. Everybody hears more voices and more viewpoints. Everybody learns something new about others and gains new respect for others and tolerates each other’s heritage more. Everybody keeps their PBS affiliations. And PBS keeps its loyal viewers.

    Jon

  37. jay S on May 18, 2009 at 11:34 am

    Perhaps this will just illustrate what I geek I was (am?), but I thought one of the great things about Utah was the 2 PBS stations. Because as you may or not know there is substantially more programming than can fill a day on pbs.

    I remember going to my grandparents place in Utah, and marveling at the variety (this is of course because we did not have cable tv at home). of course when I was there last at school, More NORM was always a good thing, and KUED always had the best evening programming. Red Dwarf, Blackadder and 30 years old Are you being served…

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