The American Board of Missions to the Jews (ABMJ) may carry to the Federal Communications Commission—and the courts if necessary—the refusal of several television stations to carry the ABMJ’s “The Passover” telecast. At stake could be a violation of the Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of free speech, as well as a possible violation of the FCC’s “fairness doctrine.” The ABMJ has turned the matter over to its attorney for possible action.
The ABMJ had scheduled “Passover” in twelve U. S. and five Australian cities on prime-time television during Holy Week. Its purpose was to depict Passover as being fulfilled in the Lord’s Supper and Christ as the Messiah. The program was professionally produced and contained no reference to missions in general or the ABMJ in particular, but the theme as it unfolded was clear.
The ABMJ, a seventy-seven-year-old mission, had spent about $35,000 of a $50,000 advertising budget in telling of the program through TV Guide, daily newspapers, national magazines, and one million flyers. Televising the program was to cost about $50,000 more.
Then, almost on the eve of the telecasts, one by one the stations began to cancel. WOR-TV in New York was the first. General manager Michael McCormick said the station had received protests from the New York Board of Rabbis, the Synagogue Council of America, and the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. Quickly stations in Chicago, Washington, Minneapolis, Miami, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Phoenix, and Pittsburgh followed. They cited a similar reason for canceling the program: “It would be offensive to a great number of people.”
Jim Reid, program manager for WDCA-TV in Washington, said the station canceled after it received “five or ten” telephone calls ...1
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