ITV's off-peak 'Godslot' criticised: Time switch marginalises religious broadcasting, media watchdog says. Rhys Williams reports

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The Independent Online
ITV's decision to scrap the early Sunday evening 'Godslot' has marginalised religious programming, the Independent Television Commission said yesterday.

The network was meeting its duty under the 1990 Broadcasting Act to provide two hours of religious programmes a week, the commission said, but they were being scheduled outside peak viewing times.

Clare Mulholland, the commission's director of programmes, said: 'If there is a continued and demonstrable interest in religion and religious broadcasting, are the current scheduling provisions appropriate? We have left the ITV companies to ponder these matters - we have no power to impose it.'

Ms Mulholland was speaking at the launch of a report by the commission into public attitudes to religious broadcasting. She said the commission would certainly be considering the findings as it started to assess the franchise holders' performance.

'I understand the commercial pressures on ITV companies, but there should be room for a range of programmes in evening hours.' After ITV axed Sir Harry Secombe's Highway last year, the commission received 1,400 letters of complaint, 'the most for a single issue', she said. 'Perhaps that decision was taken a bit too hastily.

'Now that we have the research we intend to see that it is used to best advantage. We certainly don't want to leave them to forget about it. We will draw on it ourselves when we come to our assessment of religious broacasting this year.'

While the commission cannot impose scheduling times on ITV companies, it can register concern if it feels they are not abiding by the spirit of the Act. The BBC has retained its 'Godslot' with Songs of Praise on Sunday evenings, while exploring moral and religious issues in Heart of the Matter.

Channel 4 broadcasts Witness in peak times. However, the ITV network's This Sunday progamme goes out between 10.30am and 12.30pm on Sundays.

The report, based on research among different religious groups including Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, found that there was widespread support for religious programmes.

Seeing is Believing: Religion and Television in the 1990s; John Libbey & Co, 13 Smiths Yard, Summerley Street, London SW18 4HR; pounds 18.