Monday, 31 January 2011


At County Hall, Glenfield (seat of Leicestershire County Council), for a meeting of the Interfaith Forum for Leicestershire. The topic this evening is "Religion and Media". I'm doing part of the presentation: one third of it, to be precise. First John Florance (BBC Radio Leicester) speaks on the topic in relation to broadcast media, then Nick Carter (Chair of Prospect Leicestershire and the Leicester Multicultural Advisory Group - LMAG) on print media. John (centre) and Nick (right) are in the photo above, with Resham Singh Sandhu, who chairs the meeting. I'm on last, speaking in relation to social media.

We have a good turnout (filling the Sparkenhoe Committee Room, with around 50 attendees) despite considerable competition this evening. Just a few doors away, top TV celebrity historian Michael Wood is giving a talk about his BBC series, The Story of England, which narrates the country's history through the story of Kibworth, a Leicestershire village that predates the Domesday Book. If I weren't in here speaking, I'd be in there listening to him!

Athea, from Faiths Forum for the East Midlands, brings the latest edition of their quarterly newsletter, Know Faith! issue 05, hot off the presses. It has good coverage of Inter Faith Week 2010, including our exhibition at Highcross and our feature in The Wave.

John Florance is Producer and Presenter of the Breakfast Show, on BBC Radio Leicester, Sunday mornings, 0600-0900. He gives a potted guide to the history of BBC Radio Leicester, including the birth of the BBC's Asian Network, which began in Leicester in the 1970s and still shares its premises. It's a statutory duty for local radio stations to have a programme on the topic of faith and ethics. John's show has a largely Christian audience, composed of older people up early to get to church. This doesn't stop the programme from carrying news and features about the diverse faith communities of Leicester. He lauds the good communication and positive relationship between the faith output and the newsroom. He is aware of the station's responsibility to promote good relations and better understanding among local faith communities. John also produces the "Thought for the Day" slot (he's asked me this evening if I would do a few of these - only 90 seconds long, thankfully!) He makes a few practical suggestions about getting heard on BBC Radio Leicester. Most importantly, tell him what's going on, rather than moan about it after it's over - and been missed. He also gives a few tips on how to write, submit and follow up on a good press release. He ends by acknowledging that those who genuinely know Leicester don't see it as a multicultural paradise - but one in which lively, courteous debate (some of which can - indeed should - be conducted on local radio) helps iron out the wrinkles among and between communities of differing background, practices and traditions in our city.

Nick Carter was editor of the Leicester Mercury for 16 years, having left the post two years ago in January 2009. During his tenure (says our Chair this evening), the paper covered faith community issues more sensitively and sympathetically than it does today. This evening he briefly considers how the place of faith in mainstream British society has changed radically, since he started as a junior reporter with an evening newspaper in Slough in 1975 (when religious news was made up of little more than church social events and traditional Christian festivals) and how the mainstream media has not kept pace with this change. He proposes that the media (especially local media) has a responsibility to dispel misinformation and lack of understanding. In this day and age, it's easier than ever for such opinion to find a platform, which makes the responsibility of "traditional" media all the more serious. The media as a whole has failed to understand the changing nature of religion, of communities and of their potential audience and customer base. They are now struggling to catch up - and for the most part, they have missed the boat as their audience has fragmented. Nick makes a plea for inclusion in the media of "soft news" - without setting the threshold too high, before faith issues are admitted into the mainstream as "hard news" when crises emerge. Without the background of "soft news" that would promote understanding and sympathetic coverage of faith and cultural issues. this is not as negative or pessimistic as it might first appear as he has a number of observations and suggestions for practical improvements.

My contribution is on social media, speaking about Leicester Council of Faiths' foray into Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, iPadio and - of course - blogging. I also give a puff to Amplified Leicester. I talk the audience through each of these (including my amusing anecdote about King Abdullah of Jordan reading my blog - unprovable either way, of course) and give a little live demo of a few in action. I come across like an enthusiastic twelve-year old at Show and Tell: "I've got a blog!" "We're on YouTube!" "Have you got as many facebooks fans as we have?" At the end of their presentations, John and Nick get a quarter of an hour of reflective, interesting questions; I get none. I think I've pummelled the audience into submission (but later this evening and early next morning, I get a lot of visitors to the blog).

I finish the evening here by recording half a dozen short video interviews with some of the attendees for our YouTube channel.

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