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The Sanford St Martin Trust
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The Sanford St Martin Trust
World News

Public petition calls on govt to safeguard religious broadcasting

by Kelly Valencia

The government is being urged to safeguard religious broadcasting in UK law as parliament scrutinises a new Media Bill.

Initiated by Sandford St Martin, the petition calls for the legislation to mandate public service broadcasters to include faith-based programming.

Speaking to Premier, Anna McNamee, the charity's executive director, highlighted the bill's importance.

“This is a really big, important piece of legislation. It could potentially last another 20 years and once religious broadcasting is gone. It is not coming back.

“Ofcom has seen religious broadcasting number over the last decade dropped by 45 per cent. That includes hardly anything during primetime. Now, this is a big difference. And if broadcasters aren't asked to do it, or they are not told what the rules are, there is no reason for them to do it.”

In 2022, the most recent year for which data is available, only 140 hours of 'Religion and Ethics' programming were broadcast on major channels such as the BBC, Channel 4, Channel 5, and ITV, according to Ofcom.

However, only 13 hours of these programs were scheduled during peak viewing times. This marks a notable decline from 2013, when there were 254 hours of religious content, including 51 hours of programming during peak hours.

The new bill aims to modernise legislation dating back to 2003, adapting to the era of video, online, and digital services. McNamee, however, is concerned that the increased flexibility incorporated in the legislation will negatively impact religious programming.

“The issue is that where the 2003 legislation specifically included programs about religion and other beliefs as part of the Public Service broadcasters remit, the new bill doesn't mention religion at all. Instead, the current obligations for public service broadcasters are to provide a range of programming, which includes education, sport, science, history, and all these very key core public service genres, including religion, are being replaced by terminology which basically reads, that they will need to provide ‘an appropriate range of contact’.

“Now, what does that mean? Nobody knows what that means. How do you measure it? How do you know if they're going to deliver it? And if this legislation is going to last another 20 years? Well, who's to say where religion will actually figure in that, and we are already in a situation where religious broadcasting is in decline. So it is a very, very real danger.”

The Media Bill is scheduled for its second reading on 28th February.

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