Faith-based media adapts to serve communities

Posted on: April 9, 2020 by Claire Meadows

The faith-based media is adapting their schedules, content and offerings to respond to the Covid-19 crisis and serve their readers, viewers and listeners.

Places of worship have been closed as part of the lockdown as the nation fights the Covid-19 virus. The crisis has affected all media, with news this week that the Jewish News and Jewish Chronicle have been forced into liquidation.

Other faith-based publications have been forced to take measures to reach and support their audiences.

Church Times

The Church Times, an independent weekly newspaper which reports on church news across the world, has focused coverage on how the Covid-19 pandemic is affecting places of worship, prayer and the religious community.

Alongside offering a short-term subscription to those unable to get to the newsagent or pass on your copy of the Church Times, the newspaper has looked to service its audience with articles offering advice on how to livestream worship as well as prayer in isolation and has supplied resources and guides for churches and individuals during the pandemic.

Muslim News

Alongside regularly updating its website and publishing a monthly newspaper, a key event in the The Muslim News’ calendar is its annual awards ceremony which recognises excellence in the community and beyond. The title was forced to postpone the event earlier this month. Due to take place on 8 April, the awards are a highlight of the British Muslim calendar and look to celebrate the achievements of a wide spectrum of people: Muslims and non-Muslims from the world of politics, sports, and cultural life of Britain. The ceremony is normally attended by members of all faiths and denominations and previous guests have included Boris Johnson, David Cameron, Sadiq Khan, Tony Blair and HRH Prince of Wales.

Announced ahead of the nation-wide lockdown, Editor Ahmed Versi said that the decision was due to the safety of guests at an event that normally attracts 500 people.

He said: “It was a difficult decision but the health and safety of the guests must come first. We felt it was important we postpone the event to prevent spread of the coronavirus at the event.”

Inevitably, the cancellation has come at a considerable financial cost to the newspaper. The cost of hiring hotels in late summer is almost double and for a community newspaper it is huge. “We are now looking for more sponsors to help with the increase in the costs”, said Versi.

 BBC Local Radio

The BBC has responded quickly to places of worship being closed under the lockdown.

Starting from Friday 3 April, different imams will look to service the Muslim community by leading the 5:50 a.m. broadcasts every week on 14 BBC local radio stations, reciting verses from the Qur’an or quotes from Prophet Muhammad, before delivering sermons and leading listeners in prayer.

A Christian service is being broadcast each Sunday at 8am on all 39 BBC local radio stations and Chris Burns, head of BBC Local Radio, said that the intention was to connect the religious community during times of isolation.

He said: “Many Muslims will feel a void in their lives where prayers used to be – a feeling the will be magnified as we approach Ramadan.

“Local radio is all about connecting communities and we hope these weekly reflections will go some way to helping Muslims feel a sense of community while they are isolating.”

British Muslim TV

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s The Media Show, Joseph Hayat, Editor-in-Chief of British Muslim TV said that schedules have inevitably changed due to Covid-19. A standard daily schedule on the channel includes a faith and fitness segment and children’s programmes to cater for viewers forced to stay at home.

In the run-up to Ramadan on 23 April, what would normally be the busiest period for Muslim TV, the station has been forced to rethink its coverage.

Hayat said: “It has changed dramatically because now we are trying to serve those that are on lockdown and stuck in their home and trying to serve all the needs of a very broad spectrum of our community.

“It is essential for us to be fully operational during Ramadan. Notably in the evenings just after Maghrib prayers right the way through to when people prepare to fast for the day we need to often be live. This has been a very challenging time but luckily the technical members of the team have done everything they can to ensure they have provisions in place.”

Coverage of Ramadan will go ahead, said Hayat, with technical staff and presenters all working remotely and in accordance with social distancing guidelines.

He added: ““Effectively we have it set up now so the Director of the programme can effectively direct and produce it from their location, then have the talent in terms of the presenters in their locations. It is going to be centred a lot around remote working and keeping everyone safe and at a good distance as they should be.”

Premier Christian Radio and Christianity Magazine

Premier Christian Radio and Christianity Magazine are two platforms that serve the Christian community.

Charmaine Noble-Mclean, executive director at Premier Christian Radio told BBC Radio 4’s The Media Show that their radio audience figures had increased since the lockdown. Premier has three radio stations including Premier Christian Radio and Premier Praise and Premier Gospel.

She said: “We have seen increases in our online listenership across the different stations of about 30% for each which is great”.

Christianity Magazine has also adapted its coverage to feed its audience. Recent content includes filming tips for priests without a congregation to coronavirus prayers and opinion pieces and features in relation to virus.

Jewish News

On the day that the Jewish News and Jewish Chronicle announced that they had applied for voluntary liquidation due to the impact of Covid-19, both titles had provided extensive coverage of the Covid-19 crisis and the impact on the Jewish community.

The first 8 pages of the 8 April edition of the Jewish News focused on the virus under a banner of ‘virus pandemic’ whereas the Jewish Chronicle has also taken an in-depth look at how the pandemic is affecting community members. Recent articles include coronavirus deaths in the Jewish community and coverage of calls from the Chief Rabbi encouraging members of the community to follow government directives in relation to socially distancing. Other features have included a look at how Jewish distance learning classes are flourishing during the lockdown.

Recorded before the news that the Jewish Chronicle and Jews News had applied for liquidation, Richard Ferrer, Editor of the Jewish News told the BBC that the effect of Covid-19 had forced the title to “rethink our entire business”.

He said: “We are having to bring back our distribution routes, obviously a lot of schools and community centres are shut so we are having to push people towards our digital product. Obviously advertisers are now concerned because they still value print products and print advertising more than they do digital. There is a lot that we need to do in terms of pruning, re-thinking and re-tuning our circulation and distribution and we are having to do it on a daily basis which is something we have never had to do before.

“It is going to devastate our bottom line and we are going to be pushed into areas perhaps we were reluctantly accepting that we had to look towards in the future but this disaster has forced a lot of people into sudden and drastic decisions. We knew we were going to have to wean ourselves away from the old print product. I think we are going to have to make that jump sooner rather than later.”

The print production and digital content for the Jewish Chronicle and Jewish News will continue over the next few weeks and both titles are actively working with the Kessler Foundation, owner of the Jewish Chronicle, to secure a future for both papers, it had been confirmed.