I WAS encouraged that a new editor of the Catholic Herald should immediately devote the "Viewpoint" column to the subject of the broadcasting of religion on television, (June 24). Yet I must part company with Peter Stanford's view of the current situation in "God slots and TV's religious gap" because I believe that readers are likely to be misled at a time when their critical interest is as vital as it has ever been.
Those of us, both in ITV and the BBC, who work in this significant part of public service broadcasting, are certainly expecting major changes, as we prepare for the 1990s. The challenge of greater competition presents exciting possibilities and religious broadcasting teams look forward to a share in these interesting developments.
Peter Stanford omits to mention Channel Four, where religious output regularly appears on every day but Sunday. It was this channel which broadcast a new TVS series "People Get Ready", Britain's first-ever all Black Gospel music programme on television. I would describe
"People Get Ready" as both serious and inspired.
Much religious output defies pigeon-holing. "The Human Factor", a sister product to "Encounter", which is shortly to start its fifth run of documentary films regularly mixes both commitment and enquiry.
Alas, many will not have seen "The Human Factor" because it has succumbed to the increasing competition at peak viewing times, and is not shown when the majority of people are watching television. Whilst TVS and other ITV companies continue to plan high quality religious programmes, a greater but separate problem is the placing of such programmes. So, I would not wish to decry a "gentleman's agreement" which since the beginning of broadcasting has seen a fruitful collaboration between first of all, the mainstream of Britain's Christian churches' and now representatives from the world's great faiths, and the programme makers. Their advice and support has helped religious broadcasting to maintain a position in the general market place of ideas. Thus, on Sunday evening, when many people are watching television, religion continues to take its place.
The Government is once again scrutinising broadcasting in this country. I welcome the opportunity to take a further look at our work in the light of the advent of satellite and cable broadcasting. For me, undoubtedly one of the greatest values of the present system is that with companies like TVS, there is a breadth of experience and a competitive spirit, which allows me the chance to experiment with new ideas.
Many of us have great hopes for our new programmes, but would feel much less confident if we did not have the continuing support and interest of the churches. In any debate about the place of religious programmes on Sundays, their contribution must surely be important. So I would urge all who view the output to "Watch this space" in the coming months.
Andrew Barr Head of Religious Programmes Television South Maidstone.