PBS ombud on ‘Hand of God’ flap.
The PBS ombudsman has looked into the controversy surrounding a local affiliate’s decision not to air the clergy-abuse documentary Hand of God at its scheduled time, even though the vast majority of other PBS station did. He published his findings earlier this week. (More on this in my posts here and here–context you’ll need to follow his piece.) Here’s an excerpt:
1) Yes, the Frontline producers say they did change the schedule
late in the day. Because of production delays, a three-part series
called “News Wars” that had been scheduled to be available for national
broadcast in January was moved back to February. This forced the
producers to move up programs into January, including “Hand of God,”
that had been scheduled for February. However, that change
announcement, according to Frontline, was made to all programmers well
in advance — on Dec. 1, 2006. The actual film was also delivered to
stations on Jan. 11, five days ahead of the broadcast date and in
plenty of time for pre-screening reviews by stations, according to
Frontline. According to the “Standard Carriage Report” that PBS gets
for its programs, 283 stations — about 83 percent of all PBS affiliates
— managed to take the shift in stride and carried the program on Jan.
16, when it made its national debut.
2) In a press release
issued after unfavorable publicity in local newspapers, KMBH General
Manager, Monsignor Pedro Briseno, said that the mix-up was “because
Frontline producers changed their minds after we had our programming
logs for January closed and sent to the network and to the publisher of
our programming guide.” Briseno said the cut-off for the guide must be
“at the latest twenty days in advance to the beginning of the month. In
the case of Frontline for January 16, we included the title of the
program that was provided to us at least 26 days earlier (by December
20, 2006).” This conflicts with the Frontline producers’ claim of
notifying stations by Dec. 1.
3) Briseno also points out that KMBH did, indeed, broadcast “Hand of
God” on Channel 60-DT38 “later that same night, at 1AM, during our
overnight PBS service.” So it was shown, but you cannot blame any
viewer for thinking the station had decided not to show it, or for not
knowing that a major documentary was going to be aired between 1 and
4) As for the religious linkage, a PBS spokeswoman says that “KMBH
is licensed to the RGV Educational Broadcasting, Inc., a 501(c)(3),
which is managed by the local Catholic diocese. In order to qualify for
an annual Community Service Grant from CPB (the Corporation for Public
Broadcasting), all stations must meet certain noncommercial,
nonsectarian criteria. In the PBS system, there are only three
CSG-qualified stations that have ties with religious organizations:
KMBH/Harlingen, mentioned above. KBYU/Provo is licensed to Brigham
Young University, an educational institution affiliated with the Mormon
Church. Also, WLAE/New Orleans has strong ties to the local Catholic
diocese, but is not owned or operated by it.” In looking further into
this, officials at the Provo and New Orleans stations, neither of which
carried the “Hand of God” program, said that they subscribe to a more
limited set of PBS programs and not the full national program service.
In the Associated Press story about the controversy, which Msgr.
Briseno takes issue with on several points, a spokeswoman for the
Diocese of Brownsville (Texas) says that although the Catholic Church
owns the station (KMBH) it does not influence programming decisions.
Let’s assume that is a good faith statement. But the viewers whose
letters are printed above raise important points in my view, and the
details that have since surfaced remain troubling and unconvincing,
especially the decision by the station to air that program at 1 o’clock
in the morning. There do seem to be broader church-state issues here as
well, albeit only linked in a fairly specific way to one station in
this current matter, that are worthy of a further look by PBS or CPB.
Read the whole thing here.