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Public Broadcasting, Religion and Diversity: Irish Religious Broadcasting in a European Context - Dr Jim McDonnell

Broadcasting Committee

Added on 15/10/2004


Public Broadcasting, Religion and Diversity
The Broadcasting Committee
Speech made by Dr Jim Mc Donnell

Irish Religious Broadcasting in a European Context

I am conscious as I stand here of being about to enter a minefield. Not only have I rashly agreed to speak about public broadcasting, an increasingly contentious topic, I have also agreed to speak about the European context, another area of controversy, combining both these issues with the potent mix of the words “religion”, “diversity” and “Irish”. And I have no excuse for my folly given that I was brought up in London, in what I can only describe as an Irish enclave, and learned from an early age that any combination of the words “Irish” and “religion” should be avoided if one wanted a quiet life.

But, of course, also being from an Irish family, I could never resist a good argument and so the quiet life was not to be had. As I grew up I learned, slowly and sometimes painfully that questions of identity, diversity and religion (what it means to be at the same time, in different ways Irish and British, Catholic and secular, inside and on the margins of a culture), were not going to be easily resolved. The ambiguities and contradictions in my own individual experience I saw mirrored and reflected in the experience of whole communities, across the islands of Britain and later in the turmoil in different parts of Continental Europe. And now I see may own children working out and choosing their responses to the pluralist, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious society in which they have come to adulthood. ( Interestingly enough, my daughter has an Irish passport, my two sons British passports.)

In that context, I hope that I can contribute something, as a (partial) outsider and observer, to the debate that you are having today. I make no claims to be an expert on religious broadcasting in Europe, least of all in Ireland, North or South, but I have been an observer of broadcasting and religious broadcasting for more than twenty years. Also, at the moment I am the President of the European Region of SIGNIS (the World Catholic Association for Communication). In May this year we organized, with our colleagues in the World Association for Christian Communication, the 15th European Festival of Religious Television in Warsaw. That festival, in which Dermod McCarthy participated, was a revealing glimpse of the current state of religious broadcasting across Europe. So I hope that drawing upon that and other experiences I may be able to suggest some helpful parallels and differences between your situation and those of other countries.

I mention these few personal details only to underline the complexity and pervasiveness of the topics, which we are here to discuss. When we meet to speak about the place of diversity and religion in relation to broadcasting we are also speaking about our own personal understanding and experience of what it is to claim an identity (or we might increasingly say, identities) in a world in which long established traditions and certainties are put in question.

I want to emphasise the word, personal, because I believe it is important that this kind of discussion is not framed solely in terms of abstract entities: religion, traditions, ethnic groups, or public service broadcasting. Rather we need to anchor the discussion in our own experiences and understandings and in those of our neighbours, colleagues, friends and sometimes, unfortunately, antagonists. In that regard, I was heartened to read that RTE speaks of ‘multicultralism’ in the following terms: “To reflect the culture of modern Ireland requires in a particular way that we reflect its growing multiculturalism. …Our schedules must reflect the presence of new residents in Ireland -not simply as subjects of debate in a current affairs context but as people, fellow residents, neighbours, contributors to the changing nature of the community and parents of future Irish citizens.” (Forum on Broadcasting, http://www.rte.ie/about/organisation/forum/page31.html )

Diversity and Religion
At this point it is probably worth making some remarks about the word “diversity”. The UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity affirmed that cultural diversity “is embodied in the uniqueness and plurality of the identities of the groups and societies making up humankind.” For UNESCO it is a “source of exchange, innovation and creativity”. Within that broad, rather positive, definition religion takes its place as one dimension. But it is a rather important and often unsettling dimension of culture.

As Canon Rex Davis put it in an address to a conference on Religion and Cultural Diversity in 1999, “we can admit the flux of cultural diversity and see it in its variety, fluidity and slipperiness. Certainly it can be seen that religion, qua religion, is part of that flux, embedded into the stock of main cultures, itself part of that hybridisation. We can recognise how from time to time religion may emerge with a counter-cultural thrust, to challenge the dominance of one or another prevailing stock emerging out of the manifestly generous possibilities of cultural diversity.” He goes on to note that religion has its own internal counter-culture in the various forms of “fundamentalism” and he wonders if the more liberal and tolerant varieties of religion will be able to mount a sufficiently robust defence. The danger, as he sees it, is that religion “will play less and less well the critical role it might have face to face with the cultural diversity of our time, and risk collapsing into a mystifying and destructive battle between holders of the main tradition and radicals of fundamentalism. That would be a great loss to the richness and beauty and vitality of today’s multicultural conversation…” (Canon Rex Davis, Apocalypse Hippodrome: Cultural Diversity, Religion and the Modern State, The Second Religion and Cultural Diversity Conference, London, October 1999, http://www.amf.net.au/documents/Second_RCD_Papers.pdf )

These comments underline the importance of not collapsing the category of religion into that of culture, nor conversely of collapsing culture into religion. Religion remains a powerful and important force in its own right. This enduring power of religion means that religious broadcasting has a vital and unique role to play in helping to understand the realities of living in a multi-cultural multi-faith society.

The obligation of a public broadcaster ‘to reflect the culture’ is a clear indication of the central role that broadcasting plays in modern society. Behind the obligation to reflect, is the assumption that broadcasting is a true mirror of the society it serves: if you are not reflected in the mirror, then you are absent, invisible, un-noticed. And what if the mirror gives a distorted reflection? Is that better than no reflection at all? And who decides how the mirror is angled and what reflections it will catch? The complaints voiced by numerous groups about stereotyping and media bias are eloquent testimony to the seriousness with which people struggle to ensure that the mirror reflects the face they want to have seen.

In current debates across Europe, the reflection of the changing face of religion has become a hotly debated argument. It has become a struggle about society in general and the limits of “diversity”. Its symbol might well be the Muslim headscarf. Quite literally the debate in France, and now in Germany, has been whether the face reflected in the mirror has the right to be both present to view and, in some sense, hidden from full scrutiny. To the champions of French Republican and secular values the face that looks out from beneath a headscarf is not simply an expression of a religious tradition; it is a direct challenge to the spirit of the Enlightenment. And in so far as religious broadcasters give a space for the expression of a diversity of religious and cultural expressions they are inevitably caught up in the wider debate. In choosing how and what ( and who) they reflect, religious broadcasters are implicitly articulating a vision of culture and society. They are offering a perspective on diversity that starts from an engagement with the concerns and presuppositions of religion. They are, whether they like or not, on the front line of the debate about what cultural diversity will mean in practice.

But it is as well to put this contemporary struggle into a wider historical context. The roots of public service broadcasting are intertwined with religion and from the beginning there have been battles over what religious realities would be reflected in the broadcasting mirror. In Britain Sir John (later Lord) Reith, decided that the publics needed to see a ‘manly and optimistic’ religion, as decided by him and the religious establishment. In his conception of broadcasting, religion was an essential element in providing the moral cement that would keep the edifice of society from crumbling. The influence of Reith and the development of British broadcasting resulted in an approach to religion that (crudely) downplayed denominational differences and emphasized the moral over the ‘spiritual’. It also resulted in a tradition that made religious broadcasting the responsibility of the broadcasters and not of the churches. In Ireland, as the recent arguments about the place of the Angelus showed, debates about religious broadcasting could not escape wider debates about the nature of the Irish state and the particular role of the Catholic Church.

This is not the place to go into the details of the complex history of religious broadcasting in Britain or Ireland, nor to trace the ways in which broadcasting has tried to reflect the increasing complexity and plurality of religious life and experience. Christine Morgan’s presentation will, in any case, explain how the BBC has tried to adjust its broadcasting in the light of present realities.

The simpler point that I want to make here, is that religious broadcasting is always shaped by and interacts with wider cultural, political and social forces. A brief look at European religious broadcasting shows how it has developed in many different ways.

Varieties of European Religious Broadcasting
The closest broadcasters in spirit to the British and Irish are the broadcasters of the Nordic countries and Germany and Austria. They were heavily influenced by the British model, and in the case of Germany, post-war broadcasting was constructed by the energetic Hugh Greene to incorporate essential elements of the BBC ethos. The Netherlands developed its own complex system based on recognizing the interests of different communities; of societal ‘pillars’ characterized by religious and political affiliation. Belgium constructed a system to recognize and reflects the interests of its different linguistic communities. The notion of public service was taken up in a different way in France, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Greece. These countries developed state broadcasting systems which were not independent of or critical of the government. Only in the 1960s and 1970s did a truly public service conception begin to emerge. In the countries of Eastern Europe, after the fall of Communism, public broadcasting is being established following consultation with and advice form the public broadcasters and regulatory authorities of the west.

The differing histories of public broadcasting as well as of these societies generally have shaped the approach to religious broadcasting. In the Nordic countries, Germany and Austria, there are religious broadcasting departments as we have in the UK and Ireland. In these countries the Churches have strong advisory roles and church people are directly involved in producing programmes, but religious broadcasting is primarily the task of broadcaster…not the church. In France and Switzerland, different religious communities make religious programmes on the public channel. In Spain religious programmes appear on the second channel of TVE, the public broadcaster, as well on the regional public channels. In Italy RAI’s overwhelmingly Catholic output is complemented by a small Protestant programme. In Poland there is a Catholic editorial and an Ecumenical ( including Jewish) editorial team for religious programmes.

The way religious broadcasting has been organized in Europe tells you a lot about the place of religion in society. The secular nature of the centralised French state, for example, explains the position of religious programmes as clearly demarcated arena in which the religious communities are permitted to have their say. There is to be no mixing of the secular and the religious.

The very different situations in Austria, Spain and Italy reflect the power and continuing (though now increasingly weakened influence) of the Catholic Church. They also reflect the assumptions that the cultural as well as the religious identity of the country is expressed in the idea of being “Catholic”. (There are obvious echoes here with Ireland).This cultural/religious identification is still evident in the different circumstances of Poland. In Germany the historic difference between Catholic and Protestant, cultural and religious, are inscribed in the political and advisory arrangements for public broadcasting. Even more clearly, in the ‘pillarised’ nations of the Netherlands and Belgium, broadcasting and religious broadcasting has reflected social and cultural divisions and distinctions in a system in which different communities are allocated different amounts of airtime within a public broadcasting system.

In the Netherlands, we find a Catholic broadcaster, a Protestant broadcaster, an evangelical Broadcaster and a liberal broadcaster. More recently, other religious groups have been able to secure their place in the system. Take, for example, The Buddhist Broadcasting Foundation (BOS) founded in 1999 in Amsterdam. BOS started broadcasting Buddhist programs via television, radio and internet in January 2001. In its own words, “The BOS is the first independent Buddhist Broadcasting Foundation in the west to produce and broadcast Buddhist programmes within a country's Public Broadcasting System. This makes the BOS a pioneer, both in the world of Buddhism and in the field of broadcasting. This position implies special responsibilities. We have to develop a way to transmit authentic Buddhist insights in accordance with the professional standards of quality of public broadcasting, and at the same time reach a general audience. It is a big challenge to carry the responsibilities that are inherent with being the public media platform of Buddhism. We are grateful to everybody who is contributing to achieve this. By this merit may we contribute to the realisation of an enlightened society and the liberation of all sentient beings. http://www.buddhistmedia.com/default.asp?lang=eng”

Diversity is institutionalised within the Dutch system. However, that system is currently undergoing a review as the forces of the market place challenge that arrangement too.

European Religious Broadcasting and Diversity
As one can see, religious broadcasting has always been faced with the question of ‘diversity’. Broadcasting has made various accommodations with the diversity within Christianity, and with other religious traditions like Judaism and Islam. Until relatively recently, however, diversity was largely thought of and debated as an issue within the broad Christian tradition. The Christian churches across Europe have assumed that religious broadcasting was, in essence, Christian broadcasting with concessions or additions. Its shape and content in a particular country reflected the relative power and influence of Christian churches within that context. (A similar and related tendency could be discerned in the understanding of what constitutes religious education).

It is very clear that the way in which a broadcaster tackles questions of religious diversity cannot be separated form the way in which a society deals with questions of identity and diversity. The religious question is embedded in the wider debate about what kind of society we want and what cultural diversity in the broadest terms actually means.

Turning to Ireland, I am acutely conscious that questions of identity and religious diversity have been debated at length and with ‘passionate intensity’ (to coin a phrase) for many years. So the kinds of questions that are being raised because of changing demographic realities are not unfamiliar. But what is unfamiliar, as I see it from outside, is that the universe has expanded. Diversity, identity, recognition and reflection are terms that are now applied in relation to traditions and beliefs that were hardly present in the experience, consciousness or discourse of most people before.

The current situation in RTE is expressed in the relevant section from the Forum on Broadcasting as follows::

"Religious broadcasting
It is significant that the word 'religious' was specifically inserted between 'culture' and 'sport' in the Broadcasting Act, 2001 Part IV 28 (2) -the section that expresses the public service remit. This was recognition by the legislators that while religion is part of culture, there is a clear distinction between the religious and the cultural. Religion is a strong element in the social fabric and, without reference to it, we would convey a very limited sense of Ireland.

The religious landscape is evolving: Christian customs, attitudes and beliefs are changing; and growing numbers of new residents in Ireland bring religious traditions from other cultures. Through programmes of worship and documentaries about faith, ethics and spirituality, public service broadcasting must continue to reflect these strands of continuity and change in Irish life.”

This commitment and the current religious output was discussed by the Audience Council in September. Their communiqué notes: “Alan McCormack looked at how religious and cultural groups find representation on RTÉ programmes, and how religious groups are represented in the present schedule. He found that while there is a high representation of religious services on RTÉ Radio, as well as programmes on RTÉ Television, it seems that the underlying religious assumptions are somewhat dated. … He said that one of the responsibilities of Public Service Broadcasting in Ireland is arguably to supply the information requirements of the Irish citizen - whilst applauding how these requirements are being met in the case of current religious broadcasting provision there may well prove to be scope for the inclusion of greater diversity in religious programming.” (Communiqué September 10th)

Now, it is not my task to comment on the current religious programme output of RTE. I am not competent to offer a critique. What I can do, perhaps, is indicate that the task facing RTE’s religious programme makers is one faced by broadcasters across the continent. Christine will speak of the BBC and its response. I have indicated that the there are many different ways that European broadcasters organize religious broadcasting and if one looks in their schedules one will see that all of them are now reflecting the changing realities of their religious landscape. Some are more innovative than others, the Dutch broadcasters have tried particularly hard to find new programme formats and new approaches, but none of them can escape the reality of changing religious realities. The Austrian broadcaster, ORF, for example, has coined the phrase “a supermarket of worldviews” to characterize its conception of religious diversity and pluralism. In its programmes it sees itself as offering the audience an orientation within this supermarket.

ORF is also instructive in that it gives a high profile to its religious output. In fact, in 2003 it organized a study day on the topic which was reported under the headline, Hoher Stellenwert der Religion in den ORF-Medien, (Higher Status for Religion in ORF Media). The ORF Director of Programmes stressed that ORF wanted to deal seriously with religious topics. (See http://kundendienst.orf.at/fakten/gremien/studientag.html) Taking cultural diversity seriously means taking religion seriously and , in broadcasting terms, that means according religious broadcasting the significance it deserves. Unless it is seen to be significant within the broadcasting system it will not be given the resources, nor the time slots, that would allow it to respond to the challenges placed before it. (The argument is an old one but it bears repeating).

The Changing Realities of Public Broadcasting
However, I would like to place this changing religious picture against another: the changing nature of public broadcasting itself. And the reason I do so is to suggest that any debate about adapting to changing religious and cultural realities has to take into account the profound challenges to the public broadcasting system. In a sense, though there are difficult debates to be had, the content, presentation and remit of religious programmes is not the biggest challenge. Even the adaptation of accountability and representational structures to accommodate more religious groups or interests is not such a huge difficulty. No the massive central difficulty facing religious broadcasting in a more diverse society is the danger that public broadcasting, in a real and influential sense, will cease to exist. The corpse of the institution may remain, but the spirit will have fled. And if that dire situation comes to pass, then debates about reflecting the diverse and plural nature of society may well be overtaken by the reality that broad based religious broadcasting will have splintered into a myriad of narrow channels targeted at audiences that have little to do with each other. Privatised broadcasting of religion will be a faithful reflection of the privatised nature of religious life and practice generally. Diversity will become segmentation and fragmentation.

A gloomy picture. Am I being too apocalyptic? Are these realistic fears or sober predictions?

The truth is, I do not claim to know what the long-term prognosis is for the future of public service broadcasting. But I do know that unless those of us who believe in the public service ideal ensure that we continue to argue and lobby vigorously for its long-term value then it could eventually decline to the point of irrelevance.

Public broadcasting across Europe has come under pressure from many sides. A recent report on public service broadcasting of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (the Rapporteur was Senator Pachal Mooney) gave a comprehensive overview of the European situation and made some telling points. The report underlined that, in its words, “A debate about public service broadcasting (PSB) is in reality a debate about the philosophical, ideological and cultural underpinnings of society and about the role of the State and the public sector in meeting the needs of individuals and society as a whole. This, rather than technological developments, may be the decisive factor in determining the future of PSB.”

The report went on to say, “Efforts are being deployed to halt or slow down the necessary evolution and development of PSB and consign it to a position of a niche broadcaster, serving as a complement to commercial broadcasting – in short to turn the European PSB into the American PBS. …..It is hampered by legislation and a variety of accountability and administrative systems which reduce the PSB organizations’ freedom of action, significantly slow down decision-making and have grievous consequences for their ability to deliver their programming in ways suited to contemporary realities. Moreover, with governments and public administration everywhere more and more actively imposing “clear and precise” remits on them, devising accountability systems and exercising close control over the way they spend their money, public service broadcasters are increasingly forced to fit their activities to a Procrustean bed of concepts of PSB created by political and bureaucratic minds.

The report sums up the situation as a crisis of conflicting expectations: “The result of this situation has been described by Dave Atkinson (in Public Service Broadcasting: the Challenges of the Twenty-first Century, 1997) as follows: “Public television […] is in the throes of a crisis. It is expected to do better than the private channels in embodying the public service ideal of which it is no longer allowed the monopoly […], and in order to achieve this it is expected to adopt a mode of operation which no longer distinguishes it from the commercial channels. It is expected to be productive, efficient, capable of generating its own income and able to attract ‘consumers’. It is also expected to differ from the private channels in its programming. So it is expected to be similar and different at the same time”. (http://assembly.coe.int/Main.asp?link=http://assembly.coe.int/Documents/WorkingDocs/doc04/EDOC10029.htm )

Within this environment, and the present debates about public service television and the future of the BBC Charter, in the UK, are a prime example of what is at stake, the place of religious broadcasting can seem a minor matter. But in a very real sense the fate of religious broadcasting and its place in the broadcasting system is an indicator of the health and vitality of the public service ideal as such. The treatment of religion and the extent to which religious broadcasting can accommodate the demands of a culturally diverse and changing society will show how far that society is able to preserve a public forum in which different cultures and points of view have an opportunity to engage with each other.

In a diverse society, some religious groups have come to the conclusion that they are not going to be able to have a proper reflection in the public broadcasting mirror. They are beginning to doubt that a place on a public broadcasting system will give them the visibility they want and feel that they must have their own broadcast outlets to ensure that their faces and their voices are heard.. After all, the audience is fragmenting in a multi-channel environment. So across Europe there is a growing demand by religious groups for their own channels. The technological advances of the past few years, the growth of satellite channels and the growth of the internet have lead many people to believe that having dedicated religious channels will provide them with the opportunity to put across their points of view in a less diluted form. Telling, these groups include representatives of once dominant traditions. Cardinal Lustiger of Paris , for example, has set up his own Catholic television station (which unfortunately is seen to compete directly with the Catholic programme on public television).

Many groups have expressed the feeling that religion on public channels in served in a weak form; that it is not real religion and that spirituality has become a mixture of the superficial and popular entertainment. Some religious groups, for example, in the UK, Black Pentecostals and Muslims, feel quite alienated from the predominant religious output. And, as noted before, these concerns and ambitions have to be seen against a backdrop of disputes about citizenship and identity.

Diversity in a Global Context
At the same time as diversity, and the associated question of identity, within the public broadcasting system is seen as problematic, there are wider global pressures which make public broadcasting more important than ever for the preservation of diversity. The European Parliament, for example is concerned about maintaining cultural freedom and identity in a globalized world in which organizations like the WTO give priority to trading rules above all other concerns. The domination of the global audio visual marketplace by the United States, not least in the area of private religious TV channels and the so-called ‘electronic church’, needs to be countered for the sake of global cultural diversity.

In Paris, just a few weeks ago, representatives of governments from around the world came together to try and agree on promoting an International Convention on Cultural Diversity. Among the prime movers of this initiative are France, Brazil and French Canada. In those debates the maintenance of a strong public service broadcasting system is seen a vital if the national cultural identity of a country is to be preserved and enhanced. For small countries with large neighbours this is a particular problem, (a point I don’t have to labour in this setting!) And within the European Union itself I remind you that the Irish government raised the matter of the impact of UK television within the discussions on the Television without Frontiers Directive.

So within the European context we have a situation in which public broadcasting is seen both a national bastion of cultural identity vis à vis the outside world, but within the nation is often regarded as the purveyor of a dominant culture and thus a site of struggle in which different groups and traditions claim their identity and struggle to assert their diversity.

Religious Broadcasting: Experiences and Questions
I am not going to be so rash as to comment on the particular struggles and arguments about what constitutes Irish identity, religious or cultural, or to offer may opinion about how cultural diversity works its way in the Irish context, but I will say that the domestic debate should pay attention to the wider European and world context. Particularly in the area of religious broadcasting I think it important that those concerned with the issue take a look at what is happening in other countries. The contexts are different but the contours of the debate have a certain familiarity. The experiences, the success and the failures of different models of religious broadcasting, the way in which broadcasters have come to terms with or conversely shied away from issues of representation and diversity can be instructive. Here are a few indicators, good and not so favourable. In the Nordic countries, Germany and the Netherlands broadcasters have sought to find new ways of conceptualizing and connecting with the audience; I have already mentioned the approach of ORF; the BBC has gone through a lengthy process of thinking and re-thinking is approach to religion; in Poland, just as religious broadcasters have begun to come to terms with cultural and religious diversity they find themselves threatened by a growing commercialization and intense competition; in Canada (Vision TV) and the United States (Faith and Values) ecumenical and inter-faith initiatives in the area of religious broadcasting (satellite to cable services) survive but find it hard to achieve sustainability.

More broadly, the political and policy debates about public broadcasting and its place in the new communications environment and the debates about cultural diversity provide an important social and cultural context for re-thinking religious broadcasting. Moreover, those of us who care about the future of religious broadcasting have to raise its profile in the wider debates. In most discussions of broadcasting policy, religious broadcasting is all too easily pushed into a siding, a matter for the ‘religious’; a question of catering to special interest. Religious broadcasting has to retain its uniqueness and integrity as specific form of broadcasting in order to retain and to enhance its contribution to the wider public service offering. Those of us who are proponents of religious broadcasting have to show why it is a central and important element of the public service mix. This challenge, in itself, is not new. Religious broadcasters have always struggled to find the right language, tone and approach to reach out to and engage with the audience. And over the past two or three decades religious broadcasters in different countries have wrestled with the challenges of a growing pluralism and the shifting role of religion and religious institutions. But today, the challenges are more daunting and the pressures greater because all religious traditions are struggling to understand what cultural and religious diversity actually imply for them and their place in society.

Our present broadcasting systems are faithful reflectors of our societies. It would unrealistic and foolish to ask public service broadcasting to act as some kind of moral and social glue in a society that struggles to find new ways of accommodating increasingly diverse political, cultural, social and religious forms of behaviour and expression. But public service broadcasting, by virtue of the fact that it has a public mandate, can and should stand for the coming together of the different strands in society. In that sense, diversity is a core concept. But diversity in this sense is not served well if public broadcasting that becomes a high-class ghetto (or series of ghettos). The diversity that we should support is one that stimulates broadcasting that, as RTE puts it, encourages “our dialogue about religious faith, spiritual values, ethics and belief.” That dialogue is not a peripheral matter but one that goes to the heart of a culturally diverse society. Re-presenting, presenting again, the culture in all its diversity, is to challenge the audience to re-think, re-examine habitual ways of perceiving the world in which they live. In a society, which in the words of Jonathan Sacks has lost the “sense of being part of a single moral community in which very different people are brought together under a canopy of shared values”, a vibrant and confident religious broadcasting has a vital role in expressing and interrogating the values by which individuals and communities live.

Finally, let me leave you with a few thoughts on what I think are some of the most important challenges facing public broadcasting in the matter of religion and diversity:

How can religious broadcasting give a space for distinctive voices and visions to be expressed without encouraging the further segmentation and ghettoisation of religious and cultural life?

How can religious broadcasting create possibilities for moments of conversation between different religious traditions without constraining the content of those conversations?

How can religious programmes reflect and express the religious and cultural life of different communities in ways that are accessible and engaging to culturally diverse and, increasingly fickle, audiences?

How can religious broadcasting avoid treating the issue of religious diversity as purely a matter of differences in cultural and social lifestyles?

How can religious broadcasting avoid collapsing ideas of religion into matters of culture or conversely ideas of culture into matters of religion?

How can religious programmes to tackle religious and spiritual matters in depth when the grounds of common understanding seem ever more elusive and fragile?

How can we assert, defend and promote the value of religious broadcasting in a society in which labelling a programme ‘religious’ is the best way to alienate potential audiences?

How can we articulate a vision of religious broadcasting within a wider vision of public broadcasting?

October 11th 2004