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PBS allows KBYU to continue 'sectarian' content

Published June 16, 2009 6:00 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Thou shalt air only "nonsectarian" shows may be a tenet of public television, but PBS leadership on Tuesday chiselled in an exception that will allow Brigham Young University's KBYU to keep broadcasting Mormon devotionals on Channel 11, while hanging on to PBS staples like the "NewsHour," "Nova," "American Experience" and "WordGirl."

KBYU's status as a public television station was jeopardized under a PBS membership policy overhaul, which had considered barring member stations from airing church services and other faith-oriented programming. But in a compromise gesture, the PBS board, which is comprised mostly of station managers, decided to permit the handful of member stations that air such material to continue doing so as long as they don't add new programming deemed "sectarian."

"It allows us to continue the programming we have. We are very pleased," BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said. Had the PBS board struck a hard-line position, KBYU would have had to either quit airing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints General Conferences and other Mormon material or sacrifice its PBS membership. Four other public television stations, which broadcast Sunday Masses, were in a similar situation.

PBS officials stressed that the decision arose during a much-needed review of membership policies, the first since the digital revolution transformed the media landscape allowing stations to "multicast" on Web sites, podcasts and other new platforms in addition to the airwaves. But during the review, the board realized some public stations, such as KBYU and WLAE in New Orleans, historically provided sectarian programs, said board member Peter Morrill, Idaho Public Television's general manager.

"They have provided these services for decades. That fact needed to be recognized," Morrill said. The board's decision to allow these members to continue such broadcasts is a testament to the organization's diversity and commitment to local autonomy, officials said.

In the meantime, a PBS policy adopted Tuesday encourages members to "migrate" sectarian content from their main channel to other platforms. Long-standing policy also bars members from airing commercial and political content.

The issue » Whether PBS should revoke KBYU's membership over the station's religious programming

What's new » The PBS board decided Tuesday that KBYU can remain a member but must refrain from adding new religious programming.

What's next » BYU may consider migrating some programming from KBYU to BYU Television and vice-versa.