I was very interested in an article in the current issue of PR Week on how religious organisations handle their communications in an increasingly secular society.
One of the facts to emerge from the piece was that none of the national newspapers has a dedicated religious affairs reporter. Even the Daily Telegraph, often regarded as the house journal for the more traditional wing of the Church of England, rarely covers Church news.
It was not always thus. Growing up in Glasgow in the 1970s, I remember that the annual General Assembly of the Church of Scotland generated massive media interest, including TV highlights of the debates each evening. The decline in support for the Conservative Party in Scotland can probably be traced back to Margaret Thatcher’s now infamous Sermon on the Mound; the then PM’s widely publicised address to the General Assembly in 1988 which went down like the proverbial lead filled balloon.
As recently as the early 1990s, both the BBC and ITV agreed to observe the Sunday evening God Slot (generally 6.15 to 7.15pm). During this time both channels would only broadcast religious (i.e. mainstream Christian) programmes. Today, the only show surviving from that period is Songs of Praise, which no longer has a regular timeslot and too often looks like it has been thrown together on a shoestring budget.
Does any of this matter? After all most people in the UK only go to Church for hatches, matches and despatches.
I would argue that it does matter. One of the main reasons for the recent growth both in Islamophobia and in anti-Semitism is that many people have no knowledge or understanding of the customs and practices of the major religions.
If newspapers and broadcast media were to give more coverage to religious matters, including non Christian faiths, it would go a long way to helping us be a more caring and tolerant society. Is that too much to hope for?