Religious programming is being squeezed off commercial television stations, with ITV planning to air just one hour of religious content this year, according to a series of newly released letters.
The decline was revealed after the Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch, wrote to the nation’s terrestrial channels asking them about their commitment to religious broadcasting.
Bishop McCulloch also discovered that channel Five has “no definite plans” to show any religious programmes this year.
Both ITV and channel Five have blamed the absence of religious coverage on a lack of interest, and claim that faith based programmes are no longer commercially viable.
But the broadcasters’ responses, released ahead of the Church of England’s General Synod next month, are likely to fuel concerns about the exclusion of Christianity from the public sphere.
In his letter on 15 April, John Creswell, then CEO of ITV, defended the channel’s decision, saying: “In the light of these economic and viewing trends, we have had to significantly reduce the broadcast of religious programmes. ITV is planning to schedule one 60 minute act of worship during 2010.”
And Dawn Airey, CEO of Five, quoted the channel’s Statement of Programme Policy, which says: “We have no definite plans to show programmes on specific arts or religious subjects this year. This reflects both the commercial pressures on us and our more entertainment-led programming strategy.”
Both the BBC and Channel 4 are required to make religious programmes as part of their role as public service broadcasters.
BBC 1 and BBC 2 are required to broadcast at least 110 hours of religious content each year.
And David Abraham, CEO of Channel 4, has insisted that the broadcaster is maintaining religious programmes “where possible”, despite the fact that the channel has chosen to scrap its post of commissioning editor for religion.
In December the Church of England warned that the BBC risked treating people of faith like an “increasingly rare species” in a submission to the BBC Trust.
The Church’s submission was in response to a consultation on BBC 1, BBC 2 and BBC 4 television and added to the criticism that the BBC stereotypes Christians.