Making every day a Sunday

The churches claim they are marginalised by a secular media. Now they're striking back, says Meg Carter

Some regard it as an unholy alliance. To others, it represents another weapon in the battle for souls. Whether mounting an advertising campaign, launching a dedicated TV station or withdrawing investment from BSkyB, religious organisations are taking an unprecedented interest in Britain's media. All creeds agree: the time has come to strike back.

"We are no longer happy being relegated to the Sunday morning 'God slot'," says Francis Goodwin, the joint managing director of the poster company Maiden Outdoor and founder of Christians in Media (CIM), an unofficial advertising agency comprising media and marketing volunteers. "There is undoubtedly a feeling we should do more."

CIM has created a number of high-profile advertising campaigns for the Churches Advertising Network, an umbrella body representing the Church of England, United Reformed Church, Roman Catholics, Methodists and Baptists. It incensed some with its Easter campaign: "Surprise! ... said Jesus to his friends, three days after they buried Him". The group will launch its latest campaign next month - posters listing essential festive ingredients, from turkey to indigestion, with the call: "Make room for God this Christmas".

Mr Goodwin claims that the churches have been wary of exploiting the media for too long. "There is a paranoia because nine-tenths of churches' contact with the media comes when they are caught on the back foot, defending themselves against something in the News of the World." Instead, he says, they should embrace modern mass communication: "The 'Surprise!' campaign is just what the church should be doing - creating a stir, raising issues."

Advertising is merely the start. This summer saw the launch of the London commercial station Premier, the UK's first religious radio service. Then came Christian Channel Europe, which began broadcasting last month. Existing services include Ahmadiyya Muslim TV and the Vision Channel, a 10-year- old Christian cable channel available in around 350,000 homes. Waiting in the wings is Ark2, another Christian channel, ready to launch next spring. Then there's the Ethical Word UK, the European Family Christian Network, Christian Communications, and Capital Network. All have been licensed by the Independent Television Commission.

The reason for this outbreak? There is no mainstream media alternative. A spokesman for Ahmadiyya Muslim TV explains: "Only extremist ideas are newsworthy to mainstream media. Our response was to do something practical to broadcast true perceptions of Islam."

The Rev John Kennedy, secretary of the Methodist Church Division of Social Responsibility, agrees. "Established broadcasters are biased. There is a demand that's not being catered for." He believes this is because the media world is more secular than society as a whole.

Although religious output is enshrined in the ITV and Channel 4 licences and under the BBC charter, all have been criticised, either for popularising or trivialising religious affairs or for being too neutral. Earlier this year, BBC Radio provoked an outcry when it tested a humanist discussion programme, Were You There?, in place of Radio 4's Sunday morning church service. And when ITV axed Highway in 1993 it received 1,400 letters of complaint. Even acclaimed Channel 4 series such as Witness have fallen foul of the ITC for adopting too broad a brief. The broadcasters' defence is simple. They fear their core audience is, literally, dying out. "To retain audience share, we must extend appeal," explains Ernest Rea, the BBC's head of religious broadcasting. He says that Songs of Praise has a hard-core, older following, but since the start of the year efforts have been made to make it more accessible to younger viewers. Recent editions have featured the comedy duo Cannon and Ball's gospel show and a programme with Harry Secombe achieved the series' highest rating all year: 7.1 million.

Other BBC initiatives include Heart and Soul, a Sunday morning religious magazine for young people that, Mr Rea says, generates audiences of around 500,000: "Our role is to make religious programming people want to watch. We are not here to proselytise." He adds that the BBC no longer sees ITV as direct competition. "Now they've moved religious output out of peak time, it's left for people to find, should they choose to do so."

An ITV programming source concedes: "We have to do it. But it just doesn't seem to make commercial sense when you look at what other channels are scheduling against us at the same time." Rubbish, responds Peter Meadows, chief executive of Premier Radio: "It does have an audience. Most religious programmes on ITV have generated higher ratings than many specialist programmes. The people who make the scheduling decisions assume most people are like them - not interested."

The faithful insist that there is a market. "NOP research shows that 71 per cent of the British believe in God, but only 15 per cent practise some kind of religion regularly," says Alan Rogers, director of programming for Ark2. "That means more than half the population think there's something in it but do nothing about it." Ark2 plans a broad-based schedule, underpinned by Christian values, containing sport, a soap, women's interests, on-air advice and, eventually, drama and light entertainment.

Advertisers are seeing the light. "A large number are interested in appealing to the more morally aware Nineties consumer," claims Simon Lynds, chief executive of the advertising and sponsorship specialist Scott Lynds. "Ultimately the volume of audience matters to them less than the committed nature of the viewers."

Religious channels cannot live by advertising revenue alone. Before its launch, Premier passed the plate around London churches and churchgoers, raising pounds l.2m. Advertisers say they are "pleased" with Premier's initial performance. It attracts regular audiences of 210,000 - twice that of Viva!, the London women's station. Still, Premier recently launched a second campaign to raise pounds 500,000. Mr Meadows says: "We must fight to get all the pennies we need."

It's a similar story at Ark2. "If the churches want to they can have a broad-based ecumenical station catering for anyone, from Catholics to Pentecostals," Mr Rogers says. "If not, the televangelists could move in." He points to Christian Channel Europe, launched last month by Rory and Wendy Alec. Without money, TV experience or connections to established churches, they persuaded Sky to give them space to broadcast. Their programmes are mainly pre-packaged and paid for by preaching ministries - chiefly from the US.

It is a development few relish. In the US, financial and sex scandals brought down the televangelists Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker in the Eighties. Since then, on-air fund-raising has been a thorny issue. Now, 24 religious networks compete for cable space, prompting prophets of doom to ask: how long before they come to the UK?

Cristina Odone, editor of the Catholic Herald, believes the threat is overplayed. "Reservations about discussion of religion and money are so ingrained in the British psyche, televangelists would find it very hard to get money from viewers," she says. Besides, British broadcasters are banned from on-air fund-raising.

However, Ms Odone sounds a note of caution: "More relevant is the threat that cable and satellite marginalises religion." It is a danger acknowledged by John Kennedy: "New channels offer part of the answer, but religion isn't a niche market. It's for the whole of your life."

Mr Goodwin remains sanguine. It is inevitable that mainstream broadcasters' religious obligations will change: "We're no longer operating in a Reithian society." But he is optimistic. "It's up to us to ensure we are not talking only to ourselves. This upsurge in religious channels is the start - not the beginning of the end."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Jodie Stimpson crosses the finishing line to win gold in the women's triathlon
Commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan stars as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie
filmFirst look at Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey trailor
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Campaign Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency is currently ...

BI Analyst

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency in Central Lo...

DBA

£40000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: DBA, London,...

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game