Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Save Critto

Lest anyone thought the decline of mainstream media -- especially its crucial "niche" beats -- was limited to these shores, think again.

In a recent round of deep cuts, the Australian state broadcaster ABC made waves by cutting its well-regarded "Religion Report" -- the weekly hourlong radio program hosted by the network's veteran top hand on faith, Stephen Crittenden.

After saying on-air that the decision "effectively spells the death of religion [coverage] at the ABC," Crittenden was suspended and kept from hosting today's show... but the outcry over the program's axing has attracted a unique catch-all of the interfaith spectrum:
The head of Australia's Catholic Bishop's conference has joined the chorus of opposition against the ABC's axing of nine specialist radio programs and spoken out in support of the dumped Religion Report on Radio National.

Archbishop Philip Wilson said there were many other media outlets providing stories about ``celebrity gossip'' and ``political PR manoevring.''

``The ABC management's decision to scrap the specialist programs on Radio National in favour of a more generalist approach to fit in with its new online environment also seems strange,'' Archbishop Wilson said.

``The current wisdom says that in the online world where everyone's an instant expert on everything, news outlets will distinguish themselves from the in of the blogosphere precisely by specialisation and quality, informed journalism.''

``I hope that many Australians, regardless of their religious faith or non-faith will place submissions arguing strongly that now is not the time to abandon specialist reporting on religion or other areas of interest to our society.

``Rather than abandon specialty religious programming the ABC should seize this opportunity to make it better - more relevant, less trite and cliched, and more truly reflective of the religious experience of people in this country and in the world. Then we would have a national broadcaster which was truly fulfilling its charter.''...

Archbishop's Wilson's support for the program followed similar comments last week fork the Australia's head Anglican priest, Brisbane Archbishop Phillip Aspinall.

``The number of specialist religion reporters in Australia appears to be declining, and that is of concern to me as spiritual leader of Australia's four million Anglicans. I hope the ABC will not add to that decline.''

Archbishop Wilson said that secularists maybe cheering to hear that their eight cents a day will no longer be going into funding Radio National's The Religion Report and admitted there maybe people of faith who are of the same opinion.

``It certainly wasn't everybody's cup of tea when it came to religious programming,'' he said.

``But the ABC's decision to axe this program, along with other specialist Radio National programs, should give us pause to consider the state of reporting on matters of religion and faith in Australia today.''...

Australian Muslims also say it is a blow to their goal of making society more harmonious.

Ikebal Patel is president of the Federation of Islamic Councils and says the ABC should be promoting discussion of religion.

"I think it is important that the ABC ... does whatever little it can do," he said.

ABC management was not available for interview but managing director Mark Scott has previously argued that religious programming will still have a prominent place across ABC Online and Radio National.
And the last time prelates publicly grieved over lack of secular press coverage was...?

'Round these parts, though, it's worth noting that the future's not looking much better; amid the "flattening" of news coverage across-the-board -- above all, the bleak outlook for the future of newspapers -- the religion beat has been on the front line of taking the waves of shifts, cuts and buyouts on the chin. Even as new media's proved the value of and wide interest in the beat, no shortage of outlets have felt the pressure to carve it up as either a floating assignment for whoever's free, or one of multiple topics juggled by a GA reporter. And in the process, more stories than one could tally up -- stories that inform, inspire, enrich the discourse, maybe even change a life -- get lost to eternity.

Suffice it to say, the situation could use some prayers... and it should answer the occasional question of why your narrator can't work for a newspaper.