Church of England laments drop in religious TV programmes

LONDON (Reuters) - The Church of England voted on Wednesday to express “deep concern” about a drop in religious programmes on British television but drew back from solely targeting the BBC for criticism.

A shopper looks at televisions showing a logo for the BBC News in a retail outlet in central London March 2, 2005. REUTERS/Toby Melville

The Church’s General Synod, or parliament, had been asked by one of its members to pinpoint the publicly funded BBC for marginalising religion and treating religious shows on its non-core channels as “freak shows..”

But the Synod instead voted on an amendment which expressed its “deep concern about the overall reduction in religious broadcasting across British television in recent years.”

The member, Nigel Holmes, a former BBC producer, brought a private motion accusing the BBC of preferring natural history and gardening programmes to religious output, saying some in broadcasting assumed that religion lost audiences.

Last year, it completely ignored the Christian significance of Good Friday, one of the holiest days in the Church’s calendar, he said.

He argued the BBC should be targeted because it was the “cornerstone” of public service broadcasting.

But members of the Synod said the BBC had been innovative and imaginative in its coverage, despite coming under strain from economic constraints and a proliferation of media.

The Synod should “cherish what we’ve already got,” the Bishop of Manchester, the Right Reverend Nigel McCulloch, said, pointing to BBC programmes such as the flagship “Songs of Praise” and the documentary “A History of Christianity.”

Individual BBC correspondents came in for praise while some Synod members said the Church should engage more with religious reporters, to get their message across.

Gill Ambrose, of the Ely diocese, said: “I want to suggest that we are not always terribly kind to broadcasters in our Church. Before we start to call the ... kettle black I think we need to look at ourselves.”

But Synod members did lament the fall in religious programming on the BBC World Service, even though national radio religious output was much higher than television.

The BBC said ahead of the vote its commitment to religion and ethics broadcasting was unequivocal, arguing that hours fluctuate from year to year “with no trend downwards.”

Between 2008-9, it said it broadcast 164 hours of religion and ethics across all its TV channels.

Editing by Steve Addison