Religion Report returns to ABC Radio National

Many of you will remember (not always fondly) the ABC Radio National program “The Religoin Report”. Amongst other programs to be reinstated by Radio National in 2012 is a new edition of the Religoin Report, this time with Andrew West as the host.

In the new schedule that will come into effect on 23rd January 2012, the new Religion Report will air at 5:30pm on Wednesday afternoons.

To get a taste of what to expect, listen to this interview with the new presenter on John Cleary’s Sunday Nights program. (nb. I haven’t listened to this yet myself).

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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17 Responses to Religion Report returns to ABC Radio National

  1. Peregrinus says:

    I note that, in the SMH article, it’s referred to as the “Religion and Ethics Report”, suggesting possibly a slightly broader focus than the old “Religion Report”. We’ll have to wait and see how that pans out.

    Regardless, I welcome the return of the programme. There’s a definite gap in the line-up for a programme which, instead of getting two opposing camps shouting at one another in a confrontation which does much for the appearance of balance but little for the reality of understanding, is willing to devote half an hour or so to one person, or to one book, or to one issue, and really let it be laid out and examined. Rachel Cohen, of course, already does this, but there’s space for a programme which will do it in the context of current affairs. For all the faults of the old Religion Report, I miss it.

    It might be good idea, though, regularly to rotate the presenter and producer. Give people a year’s contract, then bring in a new team. The flaw in the format is that the interests and views of the individual presenter or producer can impart a distinct flavour to the programme. And one person’s “distinct flavour” is, of course, another person’s bias.

    • Paul G says:

      “in the context of current affairs”. If that is what you are looking for from Mr West, that is what you will get, judging from the interview linked by David. All 3 issues were discussed from the point of view of behind closed doors factional brawling and pop sociology. By the sound of it, Mr West has no interest in (or perhaps knowledge of) anything more significant. I won’t be listening. If I want current affairs, I’ll listen to Michelle Grattan.
      I notice all 3 issues in the interview were about the Catholic Church. Does this reflect the interests of Mr West and Mr Cleary, or are all the other religions boring?

      • Peregrinus says:

        The old “Religion Report” was very much a current affairs programme, Paul, much like the Law Report, the Health Report, etc – all programmes that look at current, topical or controversial issues in their various specialist fields. The ABC Religion Department already produces Encounter and The Spirit of Things to examine less topical, longer-term or minority issues in the Religion/Ethics field, but there’s been a gap in the programme line-up since the Religion Report was dropped.

        I haven’t listed to the interview to which David links. If it is true that it looks entirely at Catholic church issues, well, maybe that does relfect the interests/preoccupations of either Mr Cleary or Mr West. But since that particular slant happens to correspond with my own interest, it’s one I can live with.

  2. Alex Caughey says:

    I deliberately seek out opposing opinions which challenge my understandings in an effort to better discern those who are also engaged in a process of coming to terms with God’s involvement in their life be it that they view life differently from me.

    In my opinion we should not be seeking balance or even support for our beliefs when listening to media broadcasts rather attempting to appreciate the experiences of those who wish to share their understandings enabling the listener to add something of value to our life’s journey thereby developing a much fuller picture of the human story.

  3. henry says:

    That’s fine, Alex, but I grew tired of the persistently anti-Catholic stance taken in the Religion Report and by Cleary on Sunday nights. I switched off long ago. It’s been pleasing to see a greater variety of viewpoints in the ABC Religion website, though comments are dominated by those for whom the Catholic church is just a pernicious conspiracy. Wearying.

  4. Stephen K says:

    A couple of things, here. I suppose the reaction to the programme will be flavoured or determined by one’s own thinking: those who disagreed with Stephen Crittenden’s perspective which I would probably characterise as non-traditional or liberal – for want of better terms – may assume Andrew West will have a similar. And so on. It works from all directions: whether we’re left-wing or right-wing, so to speak, we tend to avoid, dismiss or feel disgust at, the opposing standpoints, if not always, at least when we think they’re simply a rant, poorly argued, or outrage our sense of justice or other values. I ask myself, why is that? What is at the root of our aversion to views we don’t agree with, even when we haven’t heard them fully? Are we all at heart simply seeking reassurance? Are we ever able to react openly? A lot depends on the etiquette in place, wthout a doubt, and for this reason some forums facilitate learning and adapting better than others. I think it’s worth all of us reflecting on this tendency of ours to want to hear only or mainly what we already think.

    With all that said, I seem to remember The old Religion Report as having interesting questions, interesting guests and a good range of religious current affairs being dealt with intelligently.

  5. Peregrinus says:

    In the days when the “Religion Report” was still being broadcast, their were regular complaints in a number of forums – including the comments on this blog – about the bias of the presenter. One thing I noticed was how often those voicing these complaints also said that they themselves did not listen to the programme. (Indeed, henry says precisely that above.) But if they don’t listen to the programme, I wondered, how can they possibly know whether it is biased? Do they rely on reports from others? Is an initial view that they formed some time ago now maintained and reinforced by reports from others? And, if so, is there some selection bias going on? (I.e. do they only hear about, or to they only register and remember, occasions when the Religion Report expresses a view that they dislike?)

    And these thoughts were crystallised for me shortly before the programme was taken off the air in 2008. At a time when a vigorous discussion about the bias of the programme was going on in the comments on this very blog, the weekly programme featured an interview with the author of a book about Pope Pius XII, and his record during the war. The author of the book was allowed the full half-hour to set out his stall, so to speak, explaining what he had found and what he made of it and what his judgment of Pius was, with every indication of sympathetic attention from Crittenden, the presenter. Nobody else was interviewed and no dissenting voices were heard.

    Given the bias attributed to Crittenden, you would expect the book, and the author, to have a predictable slant. In fact the slant was precisely the opposite. The author was extremely sympathetic to Pius, felt he had done well in very difficult circumstances, felt that those who criticised him later (and nowadays) were treating him unfairly and that some were motivated by anti-Catholic bias, etc. He generally made a very strong case for Pius, with no resistance at all from Crittenden.

    This was so completely the opposite of what was supposed to happen on the “Religion Report” that I expected some reference to it in the discussion then raging on this blog. But no – not a word. Nada. Nobody, it seems, had heard the programme, or had heard about it, and accordingly it had no influence at all on their views about Crittenden’s supposed bias.

    And, in fact, as a regular listener to the programme, I didn’t find the tone of this particular episode at all surprising; the programme regularly broadcast lengthy pieces which made space for people who weren’t articulating some version of the stereotypical liberal, critical-of-the-church line.

    I thought this was telling. People’s perception of the bias of the programme wasn’t being formed by the content of the programme, but by some combination of their own memories of former episodes, and what they were being told by third parties, whose own views were in turn not unbiased. When they heard, or heard about, programmes critical of the church, that registered with them. They either didn’t hear, or didn’t hear about, programmes not fitting this pattern or, when they did, it didn’t register with them in the same way. It was the critical programmes which, for them, defined the bias of the Religion Report. The only way the Religion Report could appear unbiased to them was if it rarely or never broadcast anything critical of the Catholic Church. (And that, ironically, would indicate a very significant bias in the programme.)

    The conclusion, for me at any rate, is that when someone says that a programme like the Religion Report is biased, this tells you at least as much, and probably more, about [i]his[/i] perspective than it does about the perspective of the programme-makers.

    The whole point about a programme like the Religion Report is that it is going to offer subjective perspectives. It cannot be otherwise. If you devote an entire programme to an author talking about his book about Pius XII, you’re going to get a strong dose of one individual’s perspective on, and judgment about, Pius XII. And that was the format of the Religion Report.

    You hope that the perspectives offered will be varied, but you also expect that the perspectives offered will be coloured by the views of the programme-makers – not least, their views about what is newsworthy, interesting, worthy of discussion. (That’s why I suggest regular rotation of programme-makers.) You also accept that you yourself won’t agree with a great many of the perspectives offered. In fact, if the programme is any good, and offers any range of perspectives, you will disagree with a large proportion of what goes out. If that doesn’t happen, then what you have is a programme which is limited to perspectives which, by coincidence or otherwise, are tailor-made to your own particular position. And that programme is not, in any sense of the word, unbiased. It just has a bias that appeals to you.

    • Gareth says:

      Far out Pere: cant you just admit Mr Cleary and his fellow travellers at the gay-b-c are pinko-lefties with an agenda opposed to most mainstream Catholics?

      • Peregrinus says:

        I don’t listen to Cleary that much, so I have no opinion one way or the other about the specific claim you make. But I would say the following.

        1. I assume they have somebias. I don’t see how it can be otherwise.

        2. I too have a bias, and so do you.

        3. There is no reason why you should feel any sense of entitlement that Cleary’s bias should match yours.

        4. There is no reason why you should feel any sense of entitlement that Cleary’s bias
        should match that of “most mainstream Catholics”.

        • Gareth says:

          On Point 4, I disagree somewhat.

          The program is marketed as the ‘religion hour’ or whatever meaning a high proportion of the target audience are practising Christains.

          One would think that such a program would be in some way be sympathetic to the audiences views, instead of the subtle protaganist theme.

          I wonder if there was such a thing as the ‘Muslim’ or ‘Jewish’ hour and such a program was so blatantly against their mainstream views if the targetted audience would put up with it?

        • Tony says:

          4. There is no reason why you should feel any sense of entitlement that Cleary’s bias should match that of “most mainstream Catholics”.

          Depends, doesn’t it Pere? You’d have to have an agreed position on what a ‘mainstream Catholic’ is. N’est-ce pas?*

          If it’s a term you can verify in some reasonably objective way then your 4 point rebuttal has merit and could be assessed reliably. If ‘mainstream Catholic’ means ‘people who think like me and my friends (who I hang around with ’cause they think like me)’ then you’re nailing jelly to the proverbial tree.

          * Alas, I can’t claim to be bi (sorry Gareth) let alone multilingual, just fallen under the occasional influence of Hercule — ‘I am not a bloody little Frog! I am a bloody little Belgian!’ — Poirot.

        • Peregrinus says:

          Tony, Gareth

          I’m not sure that “most mainstream Catholics” is a particularly useful or meaningful standard in this context. We all have a considerable ability to believe that most other people think and feel more or less as we do, and as the people we hang out with do, so in our minds “most mainstream Catholics” really means “most Catholics who think like I do”.

          For me, for instance, “most mainstream Catholics” do not accept or practice the church’s teaching on contraception or on pre-marital sex, most mainstream Catholics are critical of the hierarchy and in particular of George Pell, most mainstream Catholics do not understand the church’s position on the ordination of women and, if they accept it at all, it is out of loyalty rather than conviction, most mainstream Catholics do not consider that missing mass on Sunday is a mortal sin, most mainstream Catholics have no interest in increased recourse to the Extraordinary Form and they regard the introduction of the new translation as either pointless or a bit of a nuisance. Tony’s view might be similar to mine. Gareth’s view might be quite different. And in every case the discrepancies between our various positions actually point not to what “most mainstream Catholics” think or feel, but to what we ourselves (or our circles) think or feel.

          In short, an appeal to what “most mainstream Catholics” think is, to a large extent, a disguised appeal – disguised possibly even from ourselves – to what we ourselves think, given a veneer of objectivity by the pretence that it’s what most people think.

          Gareth, I disagree that “a high proportion of the target audience” of the Religion Report are practising Christians, any more than a high proportion of the target audience of the Law Report are practising lawyers. The audience is people who are interested in the topic – in this case, the topic of religion (and, now, ethics). That’s obviously quite a different group. Richard Dawkins, for example, and his slew of followers are passionately interested in religion, and the Greens who you so warmly admire have much to say about ethics. This is not, and should not be, a feel-good programme whose purpose is to confirm, comfort and reassure religious people of “mainstream” views (whatever that means).

          For the record, the Religion Report did, and the other ABC religion programmes do, deal with specifically Jewish and specifically Muslim issues and topics, and if you’re correct in thinking that the ABC Religion and Ethics Department is populated by pinko lefties, well, the nightmare scenario you envisage has in fact been the case for many years.

          • Gareth says:


            If you really think that the average Catholic thinks along the way that you have categorised them, then YOU really, really have problems and may I suggest you should broaden you share your friendship with.

  6. Alex Caughey says:

    Our perceptions even, prejudices more accurately will determine our responses to media broadcasts orchestrated to encourage discussion, possibly outrage among those whose deeply felt beliefs are viewed sacrosanct.

    Journalistic licence necessarily includes obliging us to test our beliefs by being prepared to listen, and question our understandings on any given matter knowing that we are mere students with much to learn.

    “For gold is tried in the fire and acceptable men in the furnace of adversity.”
    ~Sirach 2:5

  7. henry says:

    Palestinians vs Israelis
    Global warming
    Women priests
    Dissident theologians
    Fr. Peter Kennedy
    The church response to the sex abuse crisis
    St Mary McKillop -as a dissident
    The Pope’s pastoral visits
    World Youth Day
    Pick any of the above topics. How often do Cleary and Crittenden cover both sides of the story ? The use of labels like ‘progressive’ and ‘conservative’ are often used to set the terms of a discussion. One doesn’t have to listen any more; it’s just so predictable.

    • Peter says:

      You will get no argument from me Henry.

      • Gareth says:

        This is interesting stuff – if myself, Henry, Peter and David have all expressed concerns on one discussion board – imagine the thousands out there that would (most often silently) share our views.

        It also puts a hole in Peres misguided views that there is not a large population of right-minded practising Catholics out there who agree/try to follow the majority of the Church’s instructions.

        The a-b-c is only shooting itself in the foot by pandering to its own biased and anti-Church agenda

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