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Religious media cuts undermine harmony

  • 05 December 2016


There has been a slow trickle of news outlets in Australia winding back their coverage of religion over recent years. Some might argue that this is a good thing in a secular democracy, and that discussion of religion creates division.

This however flies in the face of the overwhelming good that religious belief, and religious-based organisations, do in this country. Not to mention the fact that religion and ethics are a major part of the narrative of society, of how we live together and how we form a community.

In 2014, Fairfax was the only media provider in the country with a dedicated religion reporter in Barney Zwartz, who worked for more than 12 years at The Age in Melbourne. In a piece in ABC Religion and Ethics in August this year, Zwartz wrote of the declined coverage of religious affairs:

'I am often asked about a decline in religion journalism. When I began covering religion for The Age in 2002, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian both had highly capable religion reporters, and the ABC a large and active religion department. By the time I finished 12 years later, both the other papers had long been without religion reporters and the ABC had begun its radical truncation of its coverage which is still ongoing.'

In 2011, another well-regarded program, Stephen Crittenden's The Religion Report, was axed from the ABC. The then General Secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Fr Brian Lucas said at the time that 'the more people understand religious issues, the more we'll have a tolerant society. I think that is in touch with the way in which religion informs people's lives.'

The bosses at the ABC seemingly do not agree however. Even though The Religion Report returned a year later, rebadged as the Religion and Ethics Report, the broadcaster, which formerly boasted the most comprehensive coverage of religion, has again in recent weeks 'considerably reduced' its religious programming. Music and science programs have also been cut, to significant commentary.

The axed religion programming includes four hours of religion coverage on Sunday Nights, a program hosted for around 14 years by John Cleary (pictured).

Sunday Nights used to get around 20 per cent of available listeners. It is being replaced by a program called God Forbid, which will air on Radio National and will only get, at most, 3 per cent of available listeners. This illustrates the level of what has taken place, and should raise