Media: Happy is the broadcaster remembered in their prayers

Editors will have to improve their code of conduct or, warns Kathy Marks, they may find some formidable women breathing down their necks.
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The Independent Online
The subject of press intrusion is nothing new to members of the country's largest association of Anglican women. The Mothers' Union has been expressing concern about it for years.

Among the good works of this bastion of family values is the Media Awareness Project (MAP), which aims to promote a better understanding of the influence of the media on people's lives and to inject a distinctively Christian perspective into the debate.

It is a surprisingly slick operation for a group usually associated with jam-making and knitting. Among the material that it publishes is a glossy quarterly bulletin, and a leaflet containing detailed information on how to register displeasure about programmes and articles - with telephone numbers of all the broadcasting outlets and regulatory bodies.

When calling these organisations, members of MAP are advised to be not only polite and persistent, but also "prayerful" - which the leaflet says will help ensure that their comments reach the right person and are dealt with to best effect.

Among the events organised by project coordinators are regular conferences on themes such as teenage magazines and the role of the church in advertising. In recent months, groups have visited the BBC's Pebble Mill studios in Birmingham and its religious programmes department in Manchester.

"We want to encourage people to be more discerning about the media," says Claire Laland, who edits the MAP bulletin. "Our aim is to give them the information to enable them to make more informed judgements.

One recent innovation is a scheme called Adopt a Broadcaster, which links harassed radio and television folk in need of spiritual succour with members of the project who are willing to pray for them. It has had an enthusiastic reception among religious broadcasters, who are often confined to the studio on Sundays, unable to attend church services.

Prayers are also offered for the media in general. Before the general election, readers of the bulletin were exhorted to give special mention to "broadcasters and journalists, as they take decisions about the information they give us".

The project was set up 10 years ago, with a grant from the Jerusalem Trust, in response to anxieties about the impact of American television evangelists. In the event, "televangelism" never took off on this side of the Atlantic, so MAP's brief was widened to encompass all facets of broadcasting, together with newspapers, magazines, advertising and cinema.

While it is run by the Mothers' Union, through local branches based on the diocesan structure of the Anglican Church, the project is intended to be ecumenical.

The collective voice of the Mothers' Union, meanwhile, is expressed in forthright fashion through another channel. Twice a year it publishes a document called Media Comment, which is a compilation of views on specific radio and television programmes; it is sent to the broadcasters and regulatory bodies.

The last Media Comment had stern words for television soap operas and sitcoms, noting that "adult leisure appeared to consist of drinking alcohol, navigating themselves through the minefields of turbulent relationships and indulging in sex".

Programmes that displeased members included The Girlie Show ("unappreciated by all"), Hollywood Lovers ("fascinatingly awful") and Common As Muck ("spoiled by too much swearing and unnecessary violence"). Approval was signalled for, among others, Yes Prime Minister, University Challenge and Star Trek ("popular with husbands and offspring").

Claire Laland says that what sets the Mothers' Union initiatives apart from those of other traditionalist groups, such as Mary Whitehouse's National Viewers and Listeners Association, is the emphasis that they place on the need to praise as well as criticise.

"It gives us more credibility if we take a balanced approach," she says "We can help those people making wildlife and religious programmes fight for their budgets."

Mrs Laland has already had feedback on the biggest media story of the year, the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. "Some said that the coverage was good on the day she died, but that afterwards there was just too much of it." She says that members feel encouraged by the apparent commitment of newspapers to clean up their act on the question of privacy. "For so many years, people have been talking about the intrusive coverage of the Royal Family. But they felt helpless. Now they sense that they can make a difference if they make that phone call or write that letter."

As Janet Harris, who coordinates the Adopt A Broadcaster scheme, says: "We enter the debate as Christians, and that adds a different dimension, because the standards and values that we have through our faith are not necessarily those promulgated by television and newspapers."

"Our mission is to promote the well-being of families worldwide. Showing concern about what comes into our homes via the media is directly related to that."