Church of England concerned by 'religious TV cuts'

London, UK - The Church of England's general synod has voted to back a motion expressing "deep concern" at what it believes is a cut in religious TV programming.

But the synod drew back from singling out the BBC, instead backing a motion aimed at all mainstream broadcasters.

It called for more programming that "imaginatively marks major festivals".

The BBC said it had increased its coverage in recent years, while Channel 4 said religious programmes were "at the heart of its schedule".

Good Friday 'ignored'

Some members of the synod - effectively the Church's parliament - believe there has been a reduction in the scope of broadcasting about religion and that it is undermining Christian influence in UK national life.

Nigel Holmes, a lay member, put forward the original motion singling out the BBC, saying its coverage was "frankly not good enough".

"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," he said.

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

"Perhaps it could do the same for those who proclaim a faith."

Mr Holmes said his motion had been triggered by his feeling that the BBC "seemed to ignore the Christian significance" of Good Friday in 2009.

But the synod rejected his motion and instead voted by 267 to 4 in favour of expressing "deep concern about the overall reduction in religious broadcasting across British television in recent years".

The Venerable Jan McFarlane, the Archdeacon of Norwich, said "putting the BBC on the naughty step" would do little to improve relations or programming.

The Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch, 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 added.

Earlier, the BBC's head of religion and ethics, Aaqil Ahmed, admitted last year's television programmes on Good Friday could have been done better.

But he said: "The Charter says that we should be doing 110 hours. We're doing 164 this year.

"If you look at the broader broadcasting ecology, if you look at what's happening at ITV, channel Five, Channel 4, everybody is turning their back on religion, but we live in a time when the BBC isn't doing that," he said.

A spokesman for Channel 4 said it was "committed to providing alternative viewpoints in religion and putting religious programming at the heart of its schedule".

"We are currently airing a seven-part series on the Bible in the middle of peak time. This follows on the back of other major peak-time series on the history of Christianity and a new religion strand called Revelations."

'Evangelical tool'

The National Secular Society said research suggested religious programmes were not popular or valued.

"It is important the BBC is not bullied into becoming an evangelical tool for the Church of England while ignoring the clearly expressed wishes of the licence-payer," said president Terry Sanderson.

Meanwhile, another motion is calling on the synod to support traditionalist Anglicans who have set up their own Church in North America.

It was established in opposition to the ordination of a gay bishop and the blessing of same-sex relationships by the Anglican Churches in the United States and Canada.

Recognising the breakaway church would not bring it into the Anglican Communion, but it would represent a significant snub to the official Anglican Churches there, BBC religious affairs correspondent Robert Piggott said.