Minnesota PBS Refuses to Broadcast “Catholicism” While U.S. Bishops Ask for TV Fairness & Transparency

I think we need to take a serious look at Catholicism being treated unfairly on the airways, especially the public airways.

For instance, as Kathryn Lopez reports, over 80 PBS stations recently aired a portion of the 10-part Catholicism series Catholicism. CatholicVote has been proud to promote the program.

But when many of the 700,000 Catholics in the Twin Cities, Minnesota area asked their local PBS affiliate to carry the program, they declined by claiming it was “sectarian” — even while admitting it was “well produced and interesting” (you can contact the Twin Cities PBS at viewerservices@tpt.org).

[Update: a brief search on the Twin Cities PBS website reveals they are airing this program on Sunday, November 13th: “Bridging Cultures: Islam and the West”:

The cultural and scientific exchanges that have occurred over centuries between Western and Islamic nations have led to countless advances in literature, philosophy, architecture, mathematics, physics and the visual arts. Those exchanges are discussed by scholars gathered from around the world. Produced with the UM Program in Religious Studies.]

Yesterday before the Federal Communications Commission, Bishop Gabino Zavala, chair of the Communications Committee at the USCCB asked that religious programming be one of the categories that broadcasters report, and that they make these schedules available on the internet (the FCC is scheduled to vote on the proposal today).

Interesting to me was the reasons Bishop Zavala gave for endorsing the move (underlining mine):

Bishop Zavala stressed that religious programming needs to be one of the reporting categories. “In proceeding after proceeding, USCCB has informed the Commission of the increasing difficulty and financial burden it and Catholic dioceses face in obtaining airtime on local broadcast stations for full length programs and even public service announcements.

[The] USCCB has expended resources to gather and organize that information, but the Commission frequently has dismissed this information as ‘merely anecdotal,’” he explained. Requiring broadcasters to disclose the actual programs they air will provide much needed facts for the public to participate in the license renewal process and in future rulemakings.

In other words, the claim being made here I think is not that broadcasters will often explicitly censor Catholic programming, but that they will simply employ other means to make it difficult or impossible for Catholic dioceses to get in front of a TV audience — and one of the ways they may do this is by shielding from public view the schedule of programming they are airing.

Catholics are not used to being watchdogs of the airwaves, but I think a little more vigilance is necessary, especially when one considers what an opportunity for evangelization and reaching people is being missed when it is made especially difficult for Catholics to get airtime. PBS, after all, is supposed to be a public service, and Catholics have an equal right to take advantage of those services.

I’d be curious, for instance, to see what other “sectarian” programs the Twin Cities PBS affiliate may have aired over the years. I’d also be curious to see a map of which PBS affiliates consented to show a portion of Catholicism and which ones didn’t.

If someone feels like doing that research and make it publicly available, I think we’d all be interested in seeing the results.



  • Julie


    Just talked with the programming department (I’m in the TC). Part of the problem is that this is a religious program produced by a religious organization and not public television -they state. As well as the evangelical mission of WoF, which she quoted verbatim. She actually took a moment to find and read me the official response. After listening, I responded politely, but firmly that I heard and respected the programming statement but encouraged them to allow high-quality productions by any faith community about their own beliefs as ‘non-sectarian’ sources so very rarely get these beliefs right. They simply don’t have the education and training. Frankly, I’d rather hear about Islam from Islamists and Mormonism from Mormons and in this case, Catholicism from Catholics!

  • Bob Roberts

    Here is an interesting thing from the PBS Web site.

    Many American Catholics disagree with Church on abortion, same sex marriage – and that you can be a good Catholic without helping the poor:


    Religious voices from Occupy Wall Street:


    Respectful coverage of Day of the Dead:


    Calif. University introduces first U.S. multifaith school of theology:


  • Francis

    Let’s conduct an email campaign! LOL

  • Revert Al

    Thomas, please:

    Can you actually expect a particular public television
    station to miss the “fat pitch” contained in
    the mission statement of “Word on Fire Catholic Ministries”..
    to “reach millions of people to draw them into or back to the Catholic faith” ?

    In the face of that,
    your example of “”Bridging Cultures: Islam and the West” is
    not nearly comparable, as nauseating as its message may
    be to us.

    In U.S. culture,
    it strains credulity as to why you would expect every
    public television station to swallow the above message and
    still broadcast any of the program. It frankly surprises me
    that any public television stations did indeed broadcast it.

    How would you feel if this particular station broadcast
    a program produced by an organization with
    a mission statement containing “reach millions of
    people to draw them into or back to the Muslim faith”?
    Find a comparable example, and then we’ll talk.

    I’m as skeptical of the logic/legacy of Oliver Wendell Holmes as
    anybody, but I wonder why you think that a public television
    station should be expected to carry this kind of content. The
    situation (and the variation across the country)
    makes me believe that public television stations
    shouldn’t exist in our country, but that is another discussion.

  • Louis

    The “Islam and the West” program is 26 minutes long. That “Catholicism” box set looks like six DVD’s at probably 2 hours each. Maybe the creator could edit a shorter version and PBS might be able to fit in their schedule.Can they make this available on itunes?

    • Thomas Peters

      Louis – the other PBS affiliates are running very shortened versions of the program — not the full program. Length is not the issue here, it seams. But good to raise this question.



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