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Last Updated: Monday, 9 May, 2005, 14:48 GMT 15:48 UK
BBC bid to boost religious shows
Songs of Praise
Songs of Praise lost viewers after being moved in TV schedules
The BBC is to review its output after studies found a drop in the number of religious shows on BBC One.

A panel headed by BBC director general Mark Thompson and its board of governors will meet on Friday.

It follows two BBC reports into the quantity and impartiality of its religious programmes.

BBC One dedicated 87 hours to religion in 2004, as opposed to 101 hours in 2002. Overall viewing figures for BBC One religious programmes also fell.

'No wider impact'

In 2002 BBC governors announced they would "improve its provision of popular programmes about religion" on BBC One, "transmitted at the heart of the schedule".

However, the new report found that the 2002 plan "has not resulted in religious output with wider impact" on the channel.

Audiences to long-running BBC One show Songs of Praise were found to have fallen from 3.9 million to 3.3 million, "as a result of the earlier and irregular scheduling".

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Nevertheless magazine series The Heaven and Earth Show saw a rise in viewers, from an average of 1.1 million in 2002 to 1.2 million in 2004.

Religious shows fared better on BBC Two, with the number of religious programmes on the channel more than doubling from 18 to 37 hours, with programmes such as Country Parish and Seaside Parish.

A greater proportion of these shows were broadcast in peak viewing time, but "this was insufficient to offset the decline on BBC One".

"Religion has performed strongly on BBC Two, but it does not currently have the potential to achieve the reach or attract the size of audience of the top performing output on BBC One," the report found.

'Ignorance of issues'

BBC One is currently committed to 80 hours of religious programming per year while ITV must provide 52 hours per year.

The report into BBC impartiality was based upon the opinions of a seven-strong panel from varying religious backgrounds and 10 multi-faith focus groups.

It found that overall BBC coverage of faiths other than Christianity is widely thought to have improved since the 11 September terrorist attacks.

EastEnders' Dot Cotton
EastEnders character Dot Cotton angered some Christian viewers
However, the groups expressed concern about "occasional negative and inaccurate coverage" which showed an "ignorance of key issues".

Some of those questioned felt that religious characters were portrayed in a stereotypical way in some BBC drama.

"For example, some Christians think Dot Cotton in EastEnders is made deliberately unappealing to audiences by her eccentric traits and hypocritical behaviour," it noted.

Some Muslims believe the drama Spooks misrepresented Islam in an episode dealing with young Muslims who have trained as suicide bombers.

Nevertheless the report found that much of the BBC's coverage of religion was appreciated, with praise for the range and depth of religious output on BBC radio.

The BBC said it would publish the findings of Friday's religious output seminar "in due course".

Songs of Praise is now getting a regular evening slot in the schedules, after concerns were raised by the report.

A BBC spokeswoman said it had taken several steps to boost religious programming across the corporation.

Three executives are now charged with promoting new religious content and monitoring the schedules to ensure that programming is given a higher profile.

Two three-part series - The Story of God and The Miracles of Jesus - are to be broadcast later in the year on BBC One, she added.

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