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Regulating belief


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MeCCSA 2012 conference paper, Ruth Deller, Sheffield Hallam University

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Regulating belief

  1. 1. Regulating BeliefTelevision, policy and the representation of faith Ruth A. Deller @ruthdeller
  2. 2. Regulating Belief• PSB Context• Remits and quotas• Policy and guidelines• The impact on programming• Broadcasters and their audiences
  3. 3. Research context• PhD research 2007-2011.• Religion and spirituality in mainstream factual British TV 2000-2009.• Concerned with channels with public service broadcasting (PSB) commitments.• Industry research: documentary analysis of policies, guidelines and other materials; interviews with professionals.• Also: audience research, Textual analysis.
  4. 4. Public Service Broadcasting• ITC/Ofcom• The Broadcasting Act 1990• Changing contexts: • social/political (9/11, 7/7, New Labour) • technological (digital TV, multichannel, online expansion) • financial (advertising pressures and changes in regulation, recession) • institutional (personnel, ownership)• Ofcoms first and second reviews of Public Service Broadcasting (2003-2005, 2007-2009)
  5. 5. Ofcom PSB Reviews• Religious programmes in decline on most channels (Ofcom 2004: 14).• Audiences placed low priority on specialist programmes, but expressed a need for minority groups/interests to be represented in mainstream programming (Ofcom 2004: 17, 2008: 26).• First PSB review concluded that ITV/Five might have a more flexible approach to content regulation than quotas (Ofcom 2004).• ITV strongly lobbied for a change to its PSB requirements.
  6. 6. Remits and quotas• In 2003: • ITV/Channel 3 licensees required to provide an average of at least two hours a week of religious programmes, Channel 4 expected to provide at least one hour a week, BBC One and Two 112 hours a year between them, Five at least one hour (ITC 2003: 1).• By 2010: • ITV announced plans to reduce arts commitment, cut childrens provision entirely and reduce religious provision to one service a week (Ofcom 2010).
  7. 7. Policies and guidelines• Ofcom/ITC Broadcasting Codes• Independent Producers Handbook (C4/Five)• BBC Producers and Editorial Guidelines• ITV Producers Guidelines
  8. 8. Policies and guidelines Ofcom Broadcasting Code, Feb 2011: 21-22
  9. 9. Policies and guidelinesSection Two: Harm and Offence, OfcomBroadcasting Code, Feb 2011: 16-17
  10. 10. Policies and guidelines• Broadcasters guidelines give more specific guidance and emphasise importance of diversity, respect and not causing offence.• We should try and give a full and fair view of people and culture in the United Kingdom and across the world. BBC programmes and services should reflect and draw on this diversity (BBC 2000: 89).• All broadcasters publicity and annual reviews emphasise their commitment to diversity, often including religious diversity.• But there is a wariness to tick boxes.
  11. 11. Policies and guidelines• Its gonna have to earn its place in prime time... we choose the best ideas, irrespective of what those ideas are... We try [to be more diverse]... youve no idea how much weve tried... but the reality is if were going to do it in prime time... if you chose to do something really weak at the expense of doing the Muslim funeral parlour film that we did or The Quran or something simply because you had to tick a box then youre hacking it... thered simply be no point (Aaqil Ahmed).• You dont want to be too tick-boxy about it because that would be limiting creativity. On the other hand you dont want to be missing a big Sikh story or a big Hindu story (Michael Wakelin).
  12. 12. Impact on programming• Emphasis on the threat to the vulnerable.• Distinction between majority and minority adherents; between British and other cultures - often framed around discussions of tolerance or liberalism vs fundamentalism.• Religion/spirituality as lifestyle choice/enhancement.
  13. 13. Impact on programming• Christianity only faith with televised worship.• Christianity, Islam, Atheism, Judaism most visible faiths.• Spirituality often used within context of existing faith traditions, or in context of spiritual industry.• Certain practices disassociated from mainstream / British religion (e.g. spiritual healing, anti-abortion, anti-gay rights).• Religious texts may be critiqued but they and religious figureheads never fully dismissed; often down to interpretation - particularly with Christianity/Islam.
  14. 14. AudiencesOn Christianity: A History:• I dont know why I am shocked when I watch such programmes as they are always biased towards Christians (CW)• Channel 4 would never produce a series that questions/undermines Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism etc in such a way. Why pick on Christianity? (Jim)On Dispatches: Unholy War:• Dispatches latest chapter in its [sic] Lets demonise the Muslims series (Aniseed)• [It] seemed to be a vendetta against evangelical Christians... by a presenter who was clearly anti-Christian (Bailey)
  15. 15. Audiences• Have a tendency to perceive their own group as being under- or mis-represented and other groups as having preferential treatment.• Minority ethnic audiences spend less time than white audiences viewing PSB output (Ofcom 2008: 29).• CRAC (now disbanded) regularly criticised stereotypical portrayals and lack of diversity.• Members of Ofcom and broadcasters research panels rarely include members of minority faith groups.• High-profile responses: Jerry Springer: The Opera, Panorama Scientology and Me, Dispatches Undercover Mosque and Saving Africas Witch Children, The Monastery.
  16. 16. Conclusion• British PSB television, despite its commitments to diversity, shows religion and spirituality within particular discursive parameters, emphasising both what is good and bad.• Audiences place low value on religious programmes but higher value on programmes about faith. Members of different faith groups frequently complain about their groups portrayal.• Portrayals are limited by (sometimes very specific) guidelines and policies.• None of this occurs in a vaccuum - policies, programmes and audience responses all replicate, reinforce and inform each other - complex discursive relationships are involved.
  17. 17. References• BBC (2000), BBC Editorial Guidelines 2000-2005, London: BBC.• Deller, R. A. (2011), Faith in View: Religion and Spirituality in Factual British Television 2000-2009, PhD thesis, Sheffield Hallam University.• ITC (2003), ITC notes: Religious Broadcasting available via Ofcom website.• Ofcom, all available at Ofcom website, – (2004) Ofcom review of public service broadcasting - Phase One. – (2008) Ofcoms second review of public service broadcasting - Phase 2: preparing for the digital future. – (2010) Ofcom statement on the delivery of public service programmes by ITV. – (2011) The Ofcom Broadcasting Code February 2011.