Religious festivals are often sidelined in the news agenda in secular Britain. But religious practices have much to teach modern communicators.
Religious festivals can be a godsend for editors looking for a strong visual angle. Colourful robes, accessories like gold, frankincense and myrrh and ritual make for great photos and broadcast coverage. But beyond a good line in fancy dress and ancient stories, religion is getting sidelined when it comes to media coverage. Islamic terrorism is reported as a political or social issue, not a religious one. Last year the BBC’s Christmas reporting focused on shopping, food and charities.
Religious organisations themselves have been slow to learn to communicate. They haven’t always spoken in a way that makes sense to people who don’t have a religious background or vocabulary. A survey of 1,000 school children aged between five and seven revealed that 36 per cent don’t know whose birthday we celebrate on December 25th. Some thought it was Santa’s birthday; understandable as they see Santa everywhere rather than baby Jesus.
But churches shouldn’t leave communication to the communications function even though most major religions in the UK have PR offices nowadays. Spreading the truths of a religion is everyone’s job – in word and deed. It’s interesting that modern communication within secular organisations requires everyone to live out its values and purpose in their activities. These tend to be communicated to stakeholders through social media and customer relations and the behaviour and performance of employees. All of that philosophy is embedded in Christianity and other religions.