BBC chief says 'religious programmes should be better and braver'

 Religious programmes have no automatic right to be in the schedules, Alan Bookbinder, Head of BBC Religion and Ethics warned his audience of religious broadcasters at this year's Churches Broadcasting Conference. "Like any other part of TV, we have to punch our weight. No part of TV has an automatic right to sit in the schedules unless it is gaining the audience's attention, gaining critical impact and being seen to be work of weight and merit." he said. The Conference, run by the Churches Advisory Council for Local Broadcasting, took place on 10-12 June. "We've often wanted to skirt round the edges of religion in the past, because we felt it was uninteresting or old-fashioned, but it seems to me that religion asks the most interesting and the most important questions." said Bookbinder. "September 11th showed that religion remains a powerful force in the world" he said, adding that BBC research showed that "the audience feels under-informed about religion and wants digestible information. Religious programmes should be better and braver: non-Christian faiths can be made to seem less alien. Our job is to ensure that talent, ideas, money and commitment come together to make high-quality programmes. I think it is fair to say that the state of religious programmes will tell you quite a bit about the state of the BBC as a whole." Defending the BBC's current religious programmes, he said: "BBC1 has never before had religious programmes going out at 9pm, peak time, dealing squarely with big religious figures. On BBC2 both the replacement for The Heart of the Matter and Everyman have moved into peak time." In a question and answer session, he was challenged by Jackie Elton of Christian Connections, who pointed out: "Reality TV is dominant but it doesn't seem to find a reflection in religious broadcasting, which is dominated by experts and big ideas." He admitted that "Inter-activity is something that religious programmes haven't really explored very fully. I suspect it would be wrong for every part of TV to grab at reality TV because I suspect it is one of those things that will not last or will mutate into something else."

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