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TV review: 2024 Sandford St Martin Awards

21 June 2024

Carmen Valino for Sandford St Martin Trust 

Tom Holland speaks at the Sandford St Martin Awards in Southwark Cathedral on Monday evening. He received the Trustees’ Award

Tom Holland speaks at the Sandford St Martin Awards in Southwark Cathedral on Monday evening. He received the Trustees’ Award

OVER the river to Southwark, to the splendid Cathedral. But what do I find here — the high altar is quite obscured by a huge smart projection screen. Has this, the C of E’s very epitome of contemporary Catholicism, fallen victim to the encroachments of HTB religion? By no means! For this sacred space (a reality most strongly celebrated by, interestingly, one of the Jewish contributors) is the venue for the 2024 Sandford St Martin Awards for religious broadcasting, and you cannot do that without a splendidly high-tech set-up.

In his opening welcome, the Dean, the Very Revd Dr Mark Oakley, emphasised the absolute necessity, in today’s world of deliberate misinformation, spin, and downright lies, for courageous journalistic enquiry, the need for voices of truth and fact-finding, however uncomfortable, and the telling of stories that inspire and probe our own thinking and attitudes.

In many aspects, apart from being held in a cathedral, the event is organised along the lines of all prestigious awards ceremonies. There are several categories; for each, we see brief clips of the shortlisted programme, then a celebrity from the genre announces the runner-up, and, finally, the winner. Photographs are taken, a sculpture presented, an interview conducted.

But this razzmatazz has a deadly serious purpose, brilliantly executed. For this is a beleaguered and threatened niche, in times when public broadcasting itself is under threat, and media bosses seemingly refuse to acknowledge the central importance of religion, not just in itself as the worldwide animator of human lives, but as underlying political, social, and cultural reality.

The journalists and creatives who bring us this content struggle heroically with indifference and belittlement in newsroom and programming conference: this one event celebrates them, supports and encourages them. One of its most moving aspects is the commonality of purpose. It’s entirely inclusive and multifaith, representing all religions. Writers, directors, journalists, and presenters filled the church with a joyful buzz of mutual support and fellow-feeling; for once, they are publicly celebrated and affirmed.

All broadcasting media are covered; so my TV focus is only one strand of the whole. Themes emerge from all the shortlists: programmes exploring, through frequently agonising personal testimony, the conflicts of euthanasia, the abuse of power by charismatic religious leaders, homophobia, the suffering caused by war, and climate change. The historian Tom Holland received the Trustees’ Award for his lifetime’s work of opening our eyes to the frequently suppressed complexities of religious development — the past absolutely shaping our present reality (News 14 June). It is a splendid event celebrating brilliant and moving programmes; we need far more of them.

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