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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

BBC must not become an evangelical wing of the Church of England

Church of England claims that the BBC is sidelining religious broadcasting are untrue and self-serving, says the National Secular Society.

Responding to accusations at the Church of England’s General Synod that the BBC is not committed to religious programming, the NSS pointed out that the amount of programming in this genre was larger than that to which the Corporation had committed itself. Research also shows that that religious programmes on TV are the least watched and least valued.

  • In the 2005 Ofcom report into Public Service Broadcasting viewers were asked what types of programming they most valued on the terrestrial channels. Religion came 16th out of 17.
  • In that same report, people were asked to rank what programme genres people thought of as having societal importance. Religion again came 16th out of 17.
  • The BBC annual report revealed that the amount of religion broadcast on BBC1 TV during the period covered by the report was 105 hours – 25 hours more than had been committed to. This was part of a commitment of 112 hours together with BBC2. BBC 3 promised 5 hours and delivered two. BBC 4 was committed to 15 hours and delivered 36.
  • Radio 4 had committed to 200 hours of religious programming, but had in the end, unsurprisingly, delivered 223 hours. This did not take into account the large amount of religious input into programmes such as Today, Woman’s Hour, You and Yours and other current affairs programmes.
  • Radio 2 promised 170 hours of religion and delivered 186. Overall, the amount of religion broadcast on BBC radio rose from 1,078 hours in 2006/7 period to 1,114 in the 2007/8 period.
  • Only four per cent of viewers in a trial of High Definition Television (HD) would opt to watch religious programmes, a study carried out on Freeview in 2006 found. Of all the programme categories that the 450 trial viewers would most want to watch in HD, religion comes last – by a very large margin. “News” came top with 84 percent and “Sport” second with 80 percent, while religion came limping home at 4 percent. Viewers would even prefer watching educational programmes rather than religious ones by a factor of almost four-to-one.
  • Ofcom research into viewing habits published in April 2008 asked the question: “Which of the following types of programmes, if any, would you say you watch regularly on the main TV channels?” News was first at 70%, while religion was last with 6%.
  • The same report asked “Which five programme types are most important to you?” Religion scored 5%.
  • Research from the Human Capital consultancy showed that in homes that have access to Sky Television, religious programmes broadcast by terrestrial channels suffer an audience fall-off of 84%.
  • Our detractors point to minor reductions in religious coverage from twenty years ago but deliberately overlook the fact that over the last two decades, Mass attendance has halved, and Anglican normal Sunday attendance has dropped by 38%.

Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said: “It is clear from this research that religious programmes are not popular and not valued. It is important that the BBC is not bullied into becoming an evangelical tool for the Church of England while ignoring the clearly expressed wishes of the licence-payer.”

Mr Sanderson said that while he accepted that the BBC had a public service remit to serve the whole community and that some religion on TV was legitimate; it should be kept in proportion. “Very few people go to church and religion is now very much a minority interest. Its presence on TV should reflect that. The BBC pours far too much of its resources into satisfying these religious demands,” he commented.

Published Tue, 09 Feb 2010