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Religions and the media

The religious press

There are about two dozen national periodicals concerned with religion and religious organisations. Those associated with the main denominations include the Church Times (Anglican), the Catholic (...)

There are about two dozen national periodicals concerned with religion and religious organisations. Those associated with the main denominations include the Church Times (Anglican), the Catholic Herald, the Methodist Recorder and the Baptist Times, all of which were founded in the 19th century and appear weekly. Conservative Anglican opinion finds expression in the Church of England Newspaper. The Tablet is a respected Catholic magazine with readers outside the church.
The Church Times sells at least 30,000 copies each week, giving it the highest circulation among these publications. The paper claims a readership of more than 80,000 people, most of whom serve the church in some capacity (as clergy, church wardens, etc.).
There are also periodicals produced by non-Christian groups, notably the Jewish Chronicle, Muslim News and Sikh Times. The Jewish Chronicle claims to be "the world’s oldest and most influential Jewish newspaper"; it was established two decades before the Church Times. It also sells more copies than the best-selling Christian newspaper, though its weekly circulation has fallen dramatically in recent years, from around 46,000 in 1995 to 35,000 in 2005.

D 11 September 2012    ADavid Voas

Religious broadcasting: radio

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) operates under royal charter as a public service and is funded largely through licence fees paid by each household with a television. It has (...)

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) operates under royal charter as a public service and is funded largely through licence fees paid by each household with a television. It has traditionally regarded religious broadcasting as an important responsibility. Two of the national radio stations transmit church services each week (and on BBC Radio 4 long wave, every day), and a number of programmes are dedicated to religious and moral issues, religious music, etc.
Many radio stations are now operated by commercial and other groups. Premier Christian Radio has served the London area since obtaining a licence in 1995. Smaller Christian radio stations have recently been established in a few local areas elsewhere.

The privileged access given to religious groups by the broadcast media is governed both by formal rules and by a convention that religious spokesmen should not be contentious and should not proselytise. BBC Radio 4’s prestigious Thought for the Day slot, for example, does not permit speakers to criticise other religions. Preachers for broadcast church services are expected to submit their texts in advance and are warned not to be controversial. Regulatory bodies police the conventions. The Radio Authority, for example, has frequently warned Premier Christian Radio that it may lose its licence because its speakers make offensive comments about other religions, a protection that is extended to Satanism and paganism.

D 11 September 2012    ADavid Voas

Religious broadcasting: television

The BBC and commercial companies transmit religious programmes on television, though in lower quantity than on radio. The best know religious broadcast is Songs of Praise, which each week brings (...)

The BBC and commercial companies transmit religious programmes on television, though in lower quantity than on radio. The best know religious broadcast is Songs of Praise, which each week brings a mixture of hymns and feature stories from a different town. The programme goes out on BBC1 at the end of Sunday afternoon. Other religious broadcasts tend to have less popular appeal and are frequently scheduled late in the evening.
Digital television is becoming increasingly available in Britain, with the result that in more than half of all homes there are now many more options than the basic five analogue channels. A recent study showed that viewing of religious and other public service programmes was substantially reduced in multi-channel homes. For example, people who had more choices were only one-third as likely to watch Songs of Praise as those with only the standard channels.Until recently ITV (the main commercial television network) was required to transmit two hours of religious output per week. Such programmes have not been popular and the companies applied to the regulatory authority for permission to reduce their commitment to one hour per week. This proposal was accepted in February 2005.

The Communications Act 2003 requires the Office of Communications (Ofcom) to set standards for the content of television and radio services. The Ofcom Broadcasting Code took effect on 25 July 2005. The section 4 of the code concerned with religion is intended to ensure that:

- broadcasters exercise the proper degree of responsibility with respect to the content of religious programmes
- religious programmes do not involve improper exploitation of any susceptibilities of the audience
- religious programmes do not involve any abusive treatment of the religious views and beliefs of those belonging to a particular religion or religious denomination.

The Central Religious Advisory Committee (CRAC) gives advice on policy matters relating to religion and reviews programmes after transmission. Members of CRAC are appointed by Ofcom and the BBC from a range of Christian and minority religious groups.
Ordinary television companies that broadcast on the standard terrestrial channels may not be controlled by religious bodies or their officers. There are Christian cable and satellite channels, and in future there may be religious channels on digital television.

D 11 September 2012    ADavid Voas

Attitudes towards religious broadcasting

Religious programmes are not especially popular, though some enjoy a large audience of older viewers and listeners. Research suggests that most people remain in favour requiring broadcasters to (...)

Religious programmes are not especially popular, though some enjoy a large audience of older viewers and listeners. Research suggests that most people remain in favour requiring broadcasters to devote air time to religion. Survey respondents typically justify this opinion on the grounds that religion is an important source of moral values, brings comfort to the old and sick, and needs to be understood in a multi-cultural society. A study commissioned by Ofcom in May 2005 found that "religious broadcasting was perceived to have been so poor, and audience figures so low that there was therefore some need for protection"!

The same study asked focus groups about programmes that were intended to spread religious views or seek recruits. Very strong feelings were expressed "about how religious and faith based television should be used for sharing beliefs, not setting one set of beliefs over another or trying to persuade viewers and listeners to join that faith. … Hence, they tended to react violently, disbelievingly and very, very negatively to the suggestion that this could be allowed."

The typical attitude is thus that religious broadcasting is desirable, though mainly for other people, and at the same time that vulnerable individuals (e.g. children, the elderly, the lonely and the depressed) should be protected from any assertive or evangelical presentation of religion. There is a consensus that programmes should be fair minded in treating different religious views.

D 11 September 2012    ADavid Voas

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