Church concern over religious broadcast hours

The Church of England today voted to express "deep concern" about a reduction in religious broadcasting across British television - but drew back from singling out the BBC for criticism.

Members of the Church of England's national assembly, the General Synod, overwhelmingly backed a motion criticising a decline in religious programming.

But they rejected an attempt to narrow the focus of criticism to the BBC after a series of speakers urged the Church to do more to communicate its message.

One member of the General Synod said putting the BBC "on the naughty step" would not help encourage better coverage of religious affairs.

Nigel Holmes, a former BBC radio producer from Great Corby, near Carlisle, told the meeting in London that over the past 20 years the total output of general programme channels on BBC television had doubled.

But the hours of religious broadcasting on television were fewer and generally scheduled at less accessible times, he told the Synod.

"A fortnight ago the BBC announced that it was commissioning research with a view to improving the representation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people," he said.

"Perhaps it could do the same for those who proclaim a faith and particularly for younger people for whom nothing spiritual is to be found either on television or on the radio."

Mr Holmes said BBC Radio national religious output was stronger and healthier than it was 10 years ago.

He believed the difference could be explained by the outlook and viewpoint of individual channel controllers.

"In radio, they have tended to value spiritual subjects, in television lack of innovation combined with marginalised scheduling would appear to suggest that they have largely shunned them.

"That, frankly, is not good enough when it comes to a public service corporation which receives an annual income for its domestic services of no less than £3.6 billion."

But the Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch, said he had witnessed public service broadcasting coming under "corrosive attack" in recent years with the recession and proliferation of media adding to the pressure.

He said the Church of England needed to recognise and "cherish" what was already on offer, highlighting BBC programmes such as A History Of Christianity and Songs Of Praise.

"Religious programming has a proper place across all the public service broadcasters; don't let them off the hook by naming only the BBC in the motion," he told members of the Synod.