The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles yesterday called an end to a boycott of pubcaster KCET that began 14 months ago after the station aired the controversial, independently produced documentary “Stop the Church: Issues and Outrage” (Daily Variety, Sept. 6, 1991).
The 24-minute docu focused on a 1989 demonstration by an AIDS activist group at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, but Cardinal Roger Mahony and a number of viewers considered it to be anti-Catholic.
Mahony’s change of heart came after he “received personal assurances from KCET’s leadership that it won’t happen again,” said Archdiocese spokesman Bill Rivera.
Rivera was unable to name the high-ranking station officials who informed Mahony that programming such as “Stop the Church” would no longer be welcome on KCET.
Station spokeswoman Barbara Goen could neither confirm nor deny that any such assurances were provided. Station exex who took part in lengthy negotiations with the Archdiocese were unavailable for comment.
KCET prez Bill Kobin had earlier defended the station’s airing of the program , saying that “one of the mandates of a public television station is to explore significant issues of controversy and present a wide diversity of opinion and programming, including opinions which may not be generally popular and material which may not be to everyone’s taste.”
Another contributing factor to the Archdiocese’s about face, according to Rivera, is a revision in KCET’s programming policy. Under guidelines adopted in May, the station will adhere “to the highest PBS standard for quality, fairness and accuracy.”
PBS had come under attack from gay and lesbian groups for refusing to include “Stop the Church” in its “P.O.V.” series.
The publicly funded TV network claimed the program was “inappropriate for distribution because its pervasive tone of ridicule overwhelms its critique of policy. In addition, it does not meet PBS’ standards for quality.”
The new policy language proves that KCET would not air “Stop The Church” today, Rivera said.
Goen, however, denied the new program statement would prevent the pubcaster from airing the docu. She said the new program guidelines are “open to interpretation.”
Although the program policy statement is a critical document, Goen insisted that other elements go into program decisions.
“Every program decision is different,” she said. “I don’t think KCET feels the policy statement precludes the airing of something like (“Stop the Church”).”
If the new policy was in effect in September 1991 when the program aired on the station, Goen said it “would be hard to say” whether KCET would have gone ahead with it.
In a statement yesterday, Mahony said he was renewing his membership in KCET and encouraged others “to consider doing the same.”
The cardinal based the settlement of differences on KCET’s new program policy statement.
“I believe that the concerns and sensitivities of the Catholic community, as well as other communities and groups in the Los Angeles area, will be considered in connection with future programming,” he said.
Both Mahony and Sheldon Ausman, former chairman of KCET’s board of directors, urged station supporters to “continue to review KCET programming to assure it is implemented in confirmity with the policy.”
David Smith, executive director of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation/Los Angeles, a group that originally lent its support to the station, said yesterday that he had received assurances from KCET that it would be willing to still air “Stop the Church” despite Mahony’s statements.
“Cardinal Mahony has a tendency to read into things (facts) that aren’t really there,” Smith said. “If he chooses to believe they would not air it, he has every right to believe that. I’m not concerned.”
The boycott proved costly to KCET, which has been feeling the pinch from the recession.
In all, KCET counted 1,900 cancellations as a direct result of the boycott, but Goen said other Mahony backers may have also quietly dropped their subscriptions.
Based on a $ 50 average donation, the station lost at least $ 95,000 during the boycott (but received $ 85,000 in unsolicited gifts). That loss was likely much larger since one Catholic subscriber, Cardoba Corp. prez George Pla, reportedly withdrew a $ 100,000 pledge.
Goen said the revisions in the station’s program policy were part of the board’s regular periodic review and not prompted by the boycott.