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NEWS

PBS R.I.P.?

As WMFE prepares to sell out to a religious broadcaster, the community wonders what’s next for public television in Orlando

Photo: Illustration by Noah Scalin, License: N/A

Illustration by Noah Scalin

Photo: , License: N/A


Despite its squeaky-clean board, Daystar has been embroiled in a handful of controversies over the years. In 2003, the station was investigated by the FCC for allegedly selling airtime on its noncommercial educational stations to nonprofit groups. At the time these allegations came to light, Daystar was in the process of trying to buy Huntington Beach, Calif., PBS-member station KOCE-TV for $21.5 million, but the investigation hindered the sale. In 2008, the FCC and Daystar agreed that the company could lease one of KOCE’s digital subchannels, Daystar would use a multi-level process to review content and the company would make a voluntary donation of $17,500 to the U.S. Department of Treasury. In 2006, the company came under fire in Israel for running missionary advertisements that targeted Jews, and its station was yanked from the air there. Most recently, Daystar was rocked by a series of legal actions beginning in February 2011 when a former employee charged the organization leadership with harassment, defamation and wrongful termination related to an announcement in 2010 by Marcus Lamb that he had cheated on his wife. The suits are ongoing, and in late March, the embattled company announced it was downsizing its operations.

But just days later, on March 31, the articles of incorporation were filed in Florida for Community Educators of Orlando, a nonprofit religious broadcasting entity; the next day, Fajardo dropped the bomb that WMFE had been sold.

When reached by phone, a spokeswoman for the company, Kristin Cole, said Daystar was not commenting on its business plan or decision to purchase WMFE’s license.

“The FCC application is still pending,” she says, “so no comment until that’s finalized. So at this time, we can’t provide any information.”

Most of the complaints filed by the public with the FCC say that the sale of WMFE to an out-of-town, non PBS-member station – a religious one, no less – is not in keeping with the intent of the license first obtained by WMFE in 1965 to allow the station to air educational TV shows for the public. Its earliest shows were locally produced programs for children in public schools around Central Florida, and in its fledgling years, it was operated and funded by the Orange County Public School District. In 1967, Congress passed the Public Broadcasting Act, which established the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (which provides funding to public broadcasting stations to this day, and from which WMFE has received more than $1 million in 2010 and 2011 combined), and in the early 1970s, a 40-person board of trustees was established under the leadership of Hugh McKean, then president of Rollins College. The Orange County School District transferred the station’s assets, equipment and license to the new nonprofit group formed to run WMFE, with the understanding that it would continue to serve as a public educational station.

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