Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Uh, oh, someone's in trouble

Station violates political prohibition.
Louisville's cable Channel 19 made a mistake in airing the Justice Sunday telecast from Highview Baptist Church because it violated station guidelines prohibiting endorsements of political candidates or parties, a station official said yesterday.

The Rev. Lucinda Laird, rector at St. Matthew's Episcopal Church and president of the station's board, said David Schraffenberger, general manager of the channel that broadcasts religious programming, made the decision to carry the event at the request of Highview Baptist.

Justice Sunday was intended to rally support among conservative Christians for a proposal to end filibusters of President Bush's judicial nominees by Democrats in the U.S. Senate.

Laird said Schraffenberger did not consult the station's board, whose members are from each of the station's three partners -- the Baptist Coalition, including the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Highview and other Baptist churches; the Kentuckiana Interfaith Community, a consortium of diverse religious organizations; and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville.

Laird said the channel's executive board members agreed that airing the program was inappropriate. She said steps were being taken to make sure the board considers special programming in the future.[...]

The telecast, organized by the Family Research Council, a Washington, D.C., lobbying group, featured conservative Christian leaders. Other religious leaders, including Baptist, Episcopalian, Jewish and ecumenical representatives from around the country, criticized the event as an effort to paint those who oppose the Bush nominees as anti-religion.

Laird, who participated Sunday in a demonstration against the Justice Sunday event, said airing the demonstration on Channel 19 would not have been appropriate, either.

"We believe in a strong separation of church and state," she said. Laird called the Justice Sunday event partisan and divisive.

The Rev. Dan Odle, minister of music and worship at Highview, said the church asked the station to run the telecast because members had asked if it would be on television. There wasn't enough space in the church sanctuary for everyone who wanted to attend, he said.

"I can understand what they're saying," Odle said. "We just thought it was something we wanted to educate our people on."

Garry Gupton, minister to adults at Highview, declined to comment on whether it was appropriate for the station to air the broadcast. "We're not going to get into the business of running their television station," he said.

Gupton said, however, that the program did not endorse political candidates or parties. "The only thing asked was that senators do what they are constitutionally mandated to do, which was to vote" on judicial candidates, he said.

Laird said judicial filibusters are a partisan issue, and the event's organizers presented only the Republican side. The participation of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a potential presidential candidate in 2008, on videotape during the telecast "crossed the line" into partisan politics, she said.

The Rev. Joe Phelps of Highland Baptist Church, whose church is affiliated with Kentuckiana Interfaith Community, said he's conflicted about whether Channel 19 should have run the broadcast. He said on one hand it allowed people to see for themselves what was occurring, but he said it also was "very political" and violated the channel's guidelines.

Lawrence Smith, vice president of communications at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Channel 19 board member, said if the issue had come to a vote he would have voted in favor of airing the telecast but he wouldn't have minded if other board members did not approve. Southern seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. was one of the main participants in the Justice Sunday event.

Cecelia Price, chief communications officer for the archdiocese and a member of the station's executive board, said, "We don't think it should have run" because of its political nature and "out of respect for the diversity of our membership."

Price said the board needs to consider programs such as Justice Sunday that are out of the ordinary to ensure they meet station guidelines.
I'm very disappointed in Garry Gupton. I wish he was still a sportscaster for WHAS.

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