THE KEY WORD
By Fr. JOHN BEBB Catholic Religious Adviser to ATV
THE meeting together in Oxford last week of the religious advisers of some 12 commercial television companies with the ITA and the Producers, was a milestone in the history of Independent television.
Names one has so often seen in the TV Times suddenly came alive and even apart from the extremely valuable discussions it was fascinating to talk wiJh so many people wrestling with the problems of religious television in all parts of the British Isles.
Mr. Bernard Sendall, Deputy Director of ITA. who chaired the formal meetings, suggested that complete informality as well as frankness should characterise the discussions, and warned that the "closed " periods when religion had a quasi-monopoly might well end one day, so that religious programmes would have to stand on their own feet, and in competition with secular attractions.
Canon Heaton, Anglican Adviser to the Authority, by contrast felt that we should not be afraid to let our audience walk out on us, or in other words switch off, which caused a shudder of dismay among the producers. It was agreed that more audience research was needed,
Dr. Marsh, Free Church host to the conference (which met in Mansfield College) and a member of the ITA, wanted less " watered down " religion — did I hear the word BBC whispered nearby? — and even urged advisers to make more of a nuisance of themselves in the matter of poor secular presentations.
Religious services were then examined and it was suggested that it might held sometimes if a short visual introduction could explain the transmission that was to follow.
Fr. Michael Hollings. of AR-TV, talking about Epilogues, and wondered if the ban on "Commercials " immediately before and after such religious transmissions, could not be lifted, so as to encourage companies to consider having them at a more favourable viewing time.
Michael Reddinglon, of ATV. thought that our output should be provocative, controversial and fearless—a statement which caused some agitation here and there, while Penry Jones, of ABC-TV, advised us that the object of television was to amuse, to inform, to educate and to inspire.
It was, thought Mr. Jones, particularly the quality of inspiration which was needed on religious programmes. It was important, he said, to break the " brand-image" of the Catholic Church as " a priest trying to interest people in football pools ", the Church of Scotland as " a rampant Elder saying ' no '", and the Anglican Church as " a decaying tower, with a thermometer showing £500, and asking for a further £25,000 to save it ".
In the " Regional " discussions I was particularly encouraged to hear that Catholics get a far fairer allotment of time on Ulster TV than they do in the rest of the British Isles.
1 he hope was voiced that it might be possible for some of the smaller companies to break into the national network, which caused anguish in my part of the halt, but relief was expressed when it was suggested that the network might take such programmes at a new time such as 12.20 on a Sunday, which would enable clergy to see Ira nsmissions.
It was thought generally that the clergy needed educating to realise the value of the TV medium, and that information from them regarding coming events would be of great value to the Advisers in planning future programmes.