Sunday, 22 July 2012

PR not news, monologue not debate

BBC Wales has an article about a Church of Wales survey into the future of their churches (see
Two things are interesting to me. Firstly, how similar the apparent picture is to that in the ‘recent’ Manx survey (i.e. a survey which was completed a few years back, and some edited highlights were partially revealed to us civilians recently). Secondly, why BBC Wales gave it prominent airtime.
As with the half-formed religious droppings we get in the nominally Manx media, nothing this ‘shocking’ about a major church denomination gets into the ‘national press’ unless that organization put it there and negotiated the manner in which it would be ‘independently’ reported. 
Sorry to burst anybody’s bubble here, but there are no dedicated reporters doggedly rooting out such stories and doorstepping powerful but embarrassed figures for a quote. The 21st century media business does not work like that.
If you compare what is happening locally, it is far more likely that the C of E’s PR merchant delivered a ready cooked ‘story’ to the radio news desk, who just reheated it before shoving it down the public’s throats. The purpose is to ‘spark public debate’ about how churches can survive in the 21st century. Except that the church involved has already had that ‘debate’ privately and internally and is not about to let us heathens make informed comment.
For a decade or more it has also been (1) negotiating with government over massive public subsidy and (2), at least partially with the feedback of those government negotiations advising ‘area management’ on spotting ‘business opportunities’(such as the closure of local shops, post offices and youth facilities) or heritage schemes where applications for grant aid and start-up business funding will be treated very favourably and churches dead from the ground up get ‘reinvented’ as ‘community facilities’. The community, of course, has no say in such matters – especially as a popular response might be ‘More bigotry and brainwashing on the rates? No thanks!’
The worst ones we see here include massive government help to renovate the empty cathedral as an 'educational resource' (offering very dubious exhibitions and materials, I might add) and another where government seem to be handing an awful evangelical outfit land zoned for social housing and community resources to build a church -cum-'community centre' (thus getting out of providing the town the real youth and community centre it has been begging for over two decades).
The new ‘voucher system’ for nurseries is, I suspect, another stitch-up. Note, for example, the well timed and ‘coincidental’ comments of the Mothers Union when key beneficiaries will include right wing churches, now actually being paid to abuse kids too small to crawl away.
When organized religion reduces itself to nothing but a tacky business I wish that just one politician or civil servant would have the guts to suggest removing the charitable status. Make them operate like proper businesses with proper legal checks and balances, and make them pay taxes instead of leeching off a disinterested public. 
Until I hear that suggestion made - and an opportunity to consider it seriously - this is not a debate but another monologue from a privileged party. That party has nothing useful to say and far too many opportunities to say it in a media closed to any genuine contribution from the general public.

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