TAMPA - A flood of telephone calls and e-mails cascaded into WFLA News Channel 8 on Saturday afternoon and night over the airing of "Silencing Christians," a religious paid program that some say contained open hate speech against gays and lesbians.
Before the hourlong program ended at 8 p.m., the station had logged hundreds of telephone calls and more than 1,000 e-mails, all protesting the broadcast.
Stratton Pollitzer, deputy director of Equality Florida, has seen the program and said the message was clearly hate speech.
"I think this program is a piece of homophobic propaganda and it has no place on a major network like NBC," he said just after 7 p.m., as the program was airing.
The show was hosted by author and commentator Janet Parshall who, at the outset, said the homosexual community has established a plan for widespread acceptance at the expense of Christian morals and values.
"And to run it the same day as Gay Pride festival in St. Petersburg just adds insult to injury," Pollitzer said. "While tens of thousands of people in Tampa Bay area are celebrating diversion, WFLA is broadcasting homophobia."
"It's a dangerous show," he said, and stations in other markets have refused to run it because of its controversial content.
Pollitzer said he spoke with station executives around 4 p.m. Saturday and was told the program would be screened and a decision would be made. At 7 p.m., the show aired.
"We hope that advertisers who value diversity will take a long look at the decision to air this program funded by a radical, right-wing fringe element," Pollitzer said. "It's just not the type of thing you'd expect to see when turn on NBC on Saturday evening."
During most of the afternoon and even after the show started, the phones rang nonstop at WFLA.
"We have 20,000 members in the Tampa Bay area," Pollitzer said. "We reached maybe 10,000 through the e-mail network. And, we only sent this to the greater Tampa Bay area, to folks within this media market. All the calls are from people who watch WFLA.
"By broadcasting this homophobia," he said, "WFLA is willing to make a profit off the dehumanization of the Tampa Bay gay and lesbian community."
The thrust of the show, according to a Silencing Christians Web site, is that Christians in America are losing freedoms at the hands of the "liberal minority" which is "undermining the morals and values of mainstream America."
The airing came a day before the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, a landmark time in the gay rights movement. The anniversary commemorates the storming of a gay bar in New York by police. The anniversary was marked by the Gay Pride parade and festival Saturday in St. Petersburg.
Before and after the show, the disclaimer that the program was a paid program and that views expressed were not those of WFLA.
Mike Pumo, WFLA general manager and president, Saturday night said the program has aired on other stations around the country and at least one other Media General station. Media General owns WFLA, The Tampa Tribune and TBO.com, along with 17 other television stations, mostly in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic States.
Pumo declined to comment specifically about what went into the decision to air the program, but did admit the show did have a controversial viewpoint. The content did not, however, "raise a red flag" during the vetting procedure, he said.