Why is there no religious TV for kids?

02 November 2006

Soon after the BBC television service resumed in 1946, the inspiring Freda Lingstrom was put in charge of children's programming. She wanted children's television to be a "service in miniature", offering the full range of programme genres. Cartoons, pop and prattle may now dominate the children's schedules,  but the BBC has (in theory) maintained her intention - except for a complete absence of religious programmes for young viewers.
In a simpler age, radio's Children's Hour was not so frightened. Every Wednesday, the hour closed with five minutes of prayer, usually led by the Revd John Williams of the BBC's religious staff. In the 1980s, the BBC's religious and children's departments again combined, to produce a Sunday-morning television series for children called Knock Knock. Later, there was Umbrella.
Each was a medley of stories and songs, and was multifaith in concept. Such short-lived ventures and the occasional news item on Newsround apart, both the BBC and ITV have consigned religion for the young to their schools' departments.
This makes a Sunday-morning documentary strand on the channel Five all the more noteworthy. Made with the help of Christian Aid, Rooted has just completed its third series. In each programme, a child makes a journey to discover his or her family's religious and cultural roots.
Its success has been in making faith seem an important part of family life, as well as explaining beliefs and traditions. This could have been done within the context of educational broadcasting, but the effect of a classroom viewing of a pre-recorded tape is very different from the impact of a programme that slips unobtrusively into the living room.
The secularist (and many a television executive might accept that label) can argue that after-school religion would be a kind of propaganda, or at least the religious equivalent of aiming party-political broadcasts at children. Yet Oliver Postgate (who brought Bagpuss and The Clangers to our screens) once asked where you would start if you wished to destroy our culture.
His answer was with children's TV. Give children only what they already know, he argued (in an essay  on the internet), and "their hearts and minds would receive no nourishment; they would come to know nothing of the richness of human life, love and knowledge."
I would extend his argument. If they do not see, in the medium that has most impact in their lives, faith as being "natural", even commonplace, they will increasingly come to regard it as eccentric.
David Self was for many years a media columnist on The Listener .

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