Religion is often sidelined in the news agenda in secular Britain. But religious practices have much to teach modern communicators.
Religious stories can be a godsend for editors looking for a strong visual angle. Colourful robes, accessories and ancient rituals make for great photos and broadcast coverage. But beyond a good line in fancy dress and ancient architecture, religion is getting sidelined when it comes to media coverage. Islamic terrorism and paedophile priests are reported as political and social issues, not religious ones. Broadcaster Roger Bolton notes that journalists tend to be secular and lack religious literacy. One described a joint initiative between the Church of England and Catholics as “inter-faith.” But both are Christian – it should have been called inter-denominational.
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. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, was an academic who struggled to use language effectively.
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. “It’s worth looking at how religions have operated, because everybody in a faith is supposed to be a communicator of that faith,” notes George Pitcher, a leader in PR before he became an Anglican priest. He quotes St Francis of Assisi: “Go and spread the gospel, use words if necessary.” Good advice for all organisations.