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NEWS STORY: Plans for weekly religion news show unveiled

c. 1997 Religion News Service UNDATED _ With $5 million in grants from the Lilly Endowment, WNET, the public television station in New York, and NBC veteran journalist Bob Abernethy have joined forces to produce a weekly news program on religion and ethics to be offered through the Public Broadcasting Service this summer. WNET describes […]

c. 1997 Religion News Service

UNDATED _ With $5 million in grants from the Lilly Endowment, WNET, the public television station in New York, and NBC veteran journalist Bob Abernethy have joined forces to produce a weekly news program on religion and ethics to be offered through the Public Broadcasting Service this summer.

WNET describes the program _ with the working title”Religion Newsweekly”_ as”a first-of-its-kind weekly news program on religion and ethics.” There have been some news-oriented programs about religion on secular television in the past, but most have been specials or occasional reports.”There’s an enormous amount of interest in this part of life,”said Abernethy, who will serve as host and executive editor of the program.”I think it shows up … in the way people are searching for religious and spiritual experience, in what’s happening to book sales,”he said.”There’s not enough being done to cover this part of life, given the interest, and we hope to fill that niche.” The program is scheduled to include breaking news through live and taped reports from a team of correspondents. It also will feature interviews with well-known newsmakers; profiles of people who have led interesting lives motivated by faith; and reviews of books, movies and music that relate to religion.

The first season is scheduled to have 39 half-hour programs.”There has been no sustained, thoughtful reporting on television or in the public media on the varieties of religious beliefs, practices, movements, controversies and challenges that so profoundly affect ourselves, our nation and the world,”said Craig Dykstra, vice president of the religion division of the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment.

The two grants to WNET, totaling $5 million, mark one of the largest made by the foundation’s religion program to a single project. The foundation is one of the nation’s largest funder of religion research and scholarship.

Religious broadcasting executives welcome the program as a sign that secular television is paying more attention to religion.”We would be all for this coverage of religious news,”said Brandt Gustavson, president of the National Religious Broadcasters.”We would hope that it would be factual and not a lot of editorializing on it.” Abernethy stressed that the new program would be an unbiased journalistic effort.”It’s not televangelism,”he said.”We see ourselves as reporters, journalists, storytellers, not preachers.” On Feb. 7, United Methodist Communications plans to begin airing a similar program, called”News Odyssey,”on Odyssey, the New York-based interfaith cable channel formerly known as the Faith and Values Channel.”News Odyssey,”also a half-hour weekly program, will include a summary of news on religion and religious institutions, as well as stories on faith and morality, and how religion fits into cultural trends, said Wil Bane, associate general secretary of the public media division of United Methodist Communications.

Both Bane and Abernethy said they expect to reach different audiences with their programs and hope both programs will be successful.

In addition to the new program on Odyssey, the Christian Broadcasting Network has aired a weekly half-hour program called”Christian World News”for two and a half years. It includes features on missionaries, religious persecution and other news about religion.

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