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The Ombudsman Column

The Mailbag: 'Wishes Fulfilled' and Unfulfilled

This week's mailbag was filled mostly by reminders of old issues that never really fade away.

One deals with a new pledge drive program titled "Dr. Wayne Dyer: Wishes Fulfilled," hence the first part of the headline above. The other deals with a steady stream of complaints I get from people in Canada who can receive PBS television from some U.S.-based stations, and who contribute to PBS, but don't have access to the full range of online material. Hence the "unfulfilled" part of the headline.

This also is a long mailbag. In addition to posting emails from viewers upset over either Dyer's special or the international cut-off, there are responses and explanations from PBS officials about both subjects.

First, Dr. Dyer

In case you hadn't noticed, this is pledge drive time on PBS. That is the one- or two-week stretch that "officially" takes place four times each year — but can also be extended beyond those durations — when local stations ask for your membership and financial support, promise you a tote bag or mug, and air special programs, some of which seek to sell you other things, like books and DVDs.

PBS needs money and these shows, at least the ones that keep coming back, clearly must generate funding or the local stations wouldn't air them. As a viewer, I've enjoyed many of these special programs over the years. Just last week, for example, I was jumping around the kitchen watching the song and dance group "Under the Streetlamp" bring back the music of the '50s and '60s.

But some of these programs also annoy some viewers, and they write to me about them. The programs that get the critical mail are not the entertainment shows but almost always tend to be those spotlighting individuals who are terrific talkers and specialize in personal finance, investing, health, medicine, what's good for your brain, or inspirational wisdom. The names are familiar to veteran PBS viewers. Among them: Robert Kiyosaki, Suze Orman, Dr. Mark Hyman, Dr. Daniel Amen and, perhaps the king of controversy as far as my inbox goes, Dr. Wayne Dyer.

Watch Dr. Wayne Dyer Wishes Fulfilled | Preview on PBS. See more from pbs.

Dyer holds a doctorate in educational counseling from Wayne State University, and is a specialist in what he calls self-development. I've posted many ombudsman columns and mailbags about all these pledge programs during my time here and Dyer, specifically, has been a subject for me and for viewers on several occasions starting six years ago this month. Dyer is a prolific author and speaker. He clearly has a large and devoted following. Not all of the mail I get is critical, some is complimentary. But the vast majority of what comes to me is disapproving.

One critical theme that comes through over the years — and that I find especially worthy of attention by PBS — is that airing such programs on PBS member stations tends to suggest a PBS endorsement or stamp of approval on the approach to such subjects. Dyer's programs have been seen on PBS stations since 2004. According to PBS, this latest program is being carried by virtually every public television station in the country. PBS has 360 or so member stations, all of which are independent and can broadcast what they choose.

Here are the letters about Dyer, followed by a response to viewers from Joseph A. Campbell, vice president for fundraising programming at PBS.

Wayne Dyer, a Pledge Success but Continuing Rub for Some

I am sorry to inform you that we will no longer be supporting our local public television station as we have in the past nor defending PBS from charges of bias. The issue is the tacit endorsement of Wayne Dyer's spiritual belief system by the repeated exposure that he is perennially given. Wayne Dyer is a preacher and proselytizer for "New Age/New Thought" religion. That it is unorganized and has no churches does not make it any less a religion. Dr. Dyer's and similar books can be found in any bookstore in the same section as Christianity and the other traditional organized religions. The programs that you air amount to a New Age Religion Gospel Hour, as he arrogantly and smugly paces the stage presenting his version of absolute truth about the nature of the cosmos and man's place in it. The difference between him and any other preacher is only content and style.

I am familiar with other PBS shows ABOUT various religions, but none that repeatedly give air time to a specific: "here is the TRUTH. Follow me." Like any other preacher, Wayne Dyer believes that he is just presenting accepted universal truth, but like any other, his message is sectarian. I am tired of it and now understand what those who accuse PBS of bias are talking about.

William Glasner, Victor, NY

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I caught the tail end of Wayne Dyer on our local PBS station and I was "shocked" — this belongs on a religious station, not PBS. I sent email to my local station. I see in your [ombudsman] archives that this is not a new complaint. And apparently it is ignored. I have to wonder what PBS thinks of its viewers and members.

What's different now is that, with internet access to both video and NPR programs, the local stations need their members much more than their members need them. There are many ways that I can support NPR and avoid both PBS and my local station. And I will. Dyer must make money for them — so the only way to get him off the air is to ensure that he "loses" those members.

Nancy Van House, Berkeley, CA

Amazing Grace or Amazing Story?

I have enjoyed Wayne Dyer ever since, as a new teacher 30 years ago, I heard him speak at a teachers' convention, and met him afterwards! I, like so many, have many of his books by my bedside. However, over the past 10 years or so, I have become increasingly suspect that some of his "stories" are nothing but pure fabrication!

I watched part of his recent program on my local PBS station, and was shocked and disappointed beyond belief when he ended his show by telling HIS version of the story behind the writing of "Amazing Grace!" He said, "Legend has it . . . " or something like that, and went on to tell his captive audience, including many children, a version that is known as being simply false!! I was dismayed that a man of his intelligence and notoriety would lie on public television.

Trust is really important . . . I can no longer trust him and have many friends who have stopped listening to him as well. He needs to be held accountable, and a man in his position should only speak the truth . . . not the truth as he twists it . . .

Mount Horeb, WI

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The idolatry of Wayne Dyer during pledge drives is really ridiculous. These are not "lectures" but religious programming. Really weird to see on PBS. Plus the fawning during pledge breaks is out of hand. Not to mention that his big ending (the story of Amazing Grace) is absolutely a fairy tale. http://www.snopes.com/religion/amazing.asp Growing up I always thought PBS actually cared about history, reality, facts. Now it is just pandering with this self-help, touchy feely religion-lite New Age junk.

Brooklyn, NY

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Channels 13 & 21 are on almost any time our TV is on, whether it's daytime programming for our child, political coverage for me, or Masterpiece programs for my wife. But, when Wayne Dyer is programmed instead, we never watch PBS. Technically, that's not true. I've tried to watch him for a few minutes here and there to understand why he is put on PBS so often. I have to admit that I've never grasped his popularity. I'd much rather see your regular programming with overlong breaks for pledges than insubstantial fluff like Dyer. For the record, I am well aware that Downton Abbey is insubstantial fluff, as well. But we prefer it to some old guy spouting self-help nonsense.

New York, NY

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I am sure what you are hearing isn't new; but as I sit here with the TV tuned to PBS — I've just seen (yet another) promo for Wayne Dyer's forthcoming "new program." I always change the channel when Mr. Dyer comes on. He must be a big money maker for PBS and probably there is a business relationship with merchandising, but Mr. Dyer has always had only ONE message — "me, me, me. MY views, MY actions & conclusions, MY insights": in essence "here is MY life, pay me for it". I am an avid reader and remember Mr. Dyer from way back when (aka "Erroneous Zones"). I consider myself an open-minded person, and have actually tried to view some of the PBS-broadcasted Wayne Dyer programs.

However, I have never been able to sit through the end. This guy has nothing new to say since "Erroneous." He is a genius, however, at tagging his message to contemporaneous thought/trends, whether it be meditation, health consciousness/health issues, relationships, etc. He's kind of the Madonna of the Self-Help world. I can only surmise that Mr. Dyer's delivery (dogmatic, authoritative) must appeal to many who are in dire (no pun intended) need of a father/authoritarian figure who will tell them what to do and how to live life. The fact that he is on TV, and on the respected PBS to boot (!), lends weight to Mr. Dyer's low calorie "insights." For my part, I will keep switching the channel — even if it means watching Reality TV. At least RTV doesn't hide its commercial intent under some guise of "helping" people, as Mr. Dyer does when he shares the latest events of his life and discovery of "new" ideas to solve the problems of life. Thank you for providing this forum for me to express my views.

Wilhelmina W., San Francisco, CA

Here's the Response from PBS's Fundraising Programming Chief

Thank you for your inquiries about Dr. Wayne Dyer. For many years, public television has presented programming that is intended to inspire the viewer. From the "Love Doctor" Leo Buscaglia to "Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers" and others, PBS programs have explored the issues of spirituality and personal growth.

Since 2004 PBS has distributed 5 programs featuring Dr. Wayne Dyer. Over the years Dr. Dyer has amassed a loyal following. They have consistently and generously supported their local public stations. His programs are among the most successful fundraising programs of all time.

PBS rarely pays the entire cost of the programs it commissions and acquires for fundraising. The producers rely on "the back end," that is the sale of CDs, DVDs and other materials to pay the remaining production costs. This is a significant risk for the producer. Many programs do not recoup their production costs and the producer takes a loss. On the other hand, when a program is successful it is only right that the producers and hosts of the show materially benefit from the sale of those products.

The mission of PBS is to serve all Americans. It is inevitable that there will be times when we present programs that only appeal to a portion of our audience. Our goal is to present a schedule that, overall, meets that goal. While Dr. Dyer's programs are not to your liking, I hope you agree that other parts of the schedule are worth your time and your financial support!

And O Canada Means No Canada for Some

I wanted to submit a complaint regarding the structure of the content found on the PBS.org website. My complaint is that so many of the supposed videos listed in their "video archives" link not to videos but to webpages that merely offer the video for sale on DVD. I think that the marketing of DVD is covered under the shoppbs.org website well enough. If a viewer goes to an archive it is to view not purchase media and that we should not be subjected to frustration in the name of marketing. Also when I try to re-view video that was aired locally, it either can't be found or was refused due to "rights restrictions". This makes no sense considering it was already aired in the Canadian market (Calgary and Edmonton). Anyway my experience was disheartening and frustrating enough that I will not be back to that site for some time. Thank you.

Mark Bolt, Calgary

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I live in Ottawa and grew up in Niagara, Ontario, near Buffalo. My family was a PBS member for years, and now my husband and I are thinking of doing so. We watch PBS often and enjoy the programming. The stations near the Canadian border embrace their Canadian viewers and clearly aim their fundraising efforts at them too. So imagine my supreme annoyance to find that you do not allow Canadians to watch videos on your website due to "regional rights restrictions." You're happy to take our money, so where's the service? You don't even include the provinces in your State list — again, you have many Canadian members that pay PBS a great deal of money. Please explain why Canadians are invited to join and pay, but are excluded from you website offers.

Corien Kershey, Ottawa

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As a Canadian I receive PBS from Bangor. This station requests and accepts funds from Canadian viewers. I wish to use the PBS app for my iPad but like many other Apps I can't get it in Canada! Could you please permit your app in Canada, after all you accept assistance from Canadians and I expect Canadians are important supporters to MPBM and the Boston station. From where we (Canadians) sit we are being treated as 2nd class viewers. Thank you.

Charles Smith, Truro, NS, Canada

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When there are rights restrictions on most of the programs that I want to view online in my region, it compromises the value of my membership. I'll have to consider that when asked to re-subscribe.

Salt Spring Island

Here's the Way PBS Explains the Situation

As you may know, PBS is not a producer, but rather a distributor of programming. Our distribution rights are fairly limited and are generally confined to dissemination within the United States.

While over-the-air broadcast signals reach beyond U.S. borders, online video is subject to geo-filtering, which restricts the areas that can view PBS content. PBS is legally obligated to ensure each program does not exceed its granted rights, which unfortunately eliminates international streaming ability for some PBS programs in Canada and elsewhere.

Below is the list of programming generally available outside the US. It is important to note that this list is subject to change depending on individual countries.

We regret not being able to offer all our content online to our supporters.

PBS Programs Available Outside the United States:

BILL MOYERS: video.pbs.org/program/bill-moyers/
CIRCUS: video.pbs.org/program/circus/
GROUND WAR: video.pbs.org/program/ground-war/
MEDIA SHIFT: video.pbs.org/program/mediashift/
MOTOR WEEK: video.pbs.org/program/motor-week/
NEED TO KNOW: video.pbs.org/program/need-to-know/
NOW: video.pbs.org/program/now-on-pbs/
RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY: video.pbs.org/program/religion-and-ethics-newsweekly/
TAVIS SMILEY: video.pbs.org/program/tavis-smiley/
TO THE CONTRARY: video.pbs.org/program/to-the-contrary/
WASHINGTON WEEK: video.pbs.org/program/washington-week/
WOODRIGHTS SHOP: video.pbs.org/program/woodwrights-shop/