Both Sunday Night Safran and The Religion Report are weekly radio programs broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). Both programs cover similar content, but due to their different target demographics, they are somewhat different in tone and style of presentation.
The Religion Report is hosted by Stephen Crittenden, formerly of ABC television’s current affairs program, The 7.30 Report. The aim of the program is to give listeners an overview of current events in the world of religion. It is broadcast on Radio National every Wednesday at eight-thirty am and repeated at eight pm. The availability of the program via free podcast from the Radio National website makes it possible to reach a wider audience. It also allows listeners to leave messages on the program’s guestbook.
The program contains interviews with religious leaders, journalists and the authors of books about religion, as well as occasional excerpts from religious sermons. In his interviews, Stephen Crittenden seems to strive to achieve a balanced viewpoint, never favouring one side of a debate over the other. For example, in the broadcast of July 30th, 2008, one of the topics of discussion was the Lambeth Conference, which is an assembly of Anglican bishops from around the world, convened every ten years by the Archbishop of Canterbury. This year’s Lambeth Conference has been boycotted by approximately two hundred bishops due to the controversy surrounding the appointment of an openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson. Rather than simply present the issue as black and white, Crittenden explains reasoning behind some of the bishops who decided not to attend the conference. This decision was not necessarily based on a desire to exclude homosexual priests from the church, but may also have to do with the different issues surrounding the Church in different countries. One Sudanese bishop said that the recognition of same-sex relationships within the church in the West was putting members of his congregation at risk of violent persecution in Africa.
The Religion Report is only a half hour program each week, which means that issues cannot be explored in great depth. However, an issue raised one week is often followed up in subsequent weeks. The brevity of the program also means that fewer issues can be discussed each week. In the broadcast of July 30th, there were only two interviews: the Lambeth Conference and also an interview with Reverend Jim Wallis about his predictions regarding the role of religion in American politics. Reverend Wallis seemed to agree with the authors of Left Behind: The Skewed Representation of Religion in Major News Media (Media Matters in America 2007, p.3) , that the American people are interested in a much broader range of religious and ethical topics than abortion and gay marriage.
Sunday Night Safran is broadcast every Sunday night at nine pm on Triple J. Like The Religion Report, it is also available via free podcast. It is hosted by John Safran, of John Safran Vs. God (SBS Television 2004) fame, and Catholic Priest Father Bob Maguire. The program is comprised mainly of discussions between the two hosts and interviews with religious leaders, journalists and other newsworthy people. The program also contains music, some of which is relevant to the discussion (ie. the segment called Religious Song of the Week), but most of which is from the usual Triple J play list.
Triple J is primarily a music radio station which is specifically aimed at young Australians (http://www.abc.net.au/triplej/about, 2008). Consequently, Sunday Night Safran targets a younger demographic than The Religion Report. Because of this, the program is less formal in its approach. The aim of Sunday Night Safran is primarily to entertain, rather than inform listeners. The discussion of religion and politics is interspersed with banter between the two hosts and rambling conversations about music, celebrity gossip and current events. However, this light-hearted approach serves to get and keep listeners’ attention. Studies have suggested that the television viewing habits of today’s youth have led to reduced attention spans (Elias, 2008). If that is true, the younger demographic at which the program is aimed may be more likely to learn about religion and politics from a program which mixes in some humour and other topics with the serious discussions the way John and Father Bob do than from listening to a lengthy, formal news broadcast.
In the broadcast of July 27th, Sunday Night Safran covered several topics in some depth. It included an interview with Dr. Benjamin Penny from the Australian National University about Falun Gong, a discussion about recent events in Nepal, and an interview with John Follain, author of The Last Godfathers, a book about how Catholicism is important to the Sicilian Mafia. The subject of the current controversy in the Anglican Church was touched on only briefly, with John saying that “nobody cares” about it because the Anglicans are “boring” (Sunday Night Safran July 27 2008). However, this is apparently meant in jest, and Father Bob goes on to talk about the respect he has for the progressive elements in the Anglican Church, which he compares favourably with his own Roman Catholic Church.
Unlike Stephen Crittenden, Father Bob, and especially John Safran, are unabashedly partisan about particular issues, with John often arguing that Judaism is “better” than other religions, and Father Bob calling a guest a fascist on air after the guest had left the studio. However, they do try to interview people on both sides of a debate, and offer a right of reply to anyone criticised on the program.
In conclusion, both Sunday Night Safran and The Religion Report cover similar content, and only really differ in the way that content is presented. As a Radio National Program, the Religion Report is focused mainly on informing listeners, and offers a fairly condensed, unbiased overview of current events in the world of religion. Sunday Night Safran focuses more on entertainment, and having a longer timeslot it can cover a broader range of topics, which do not necessarily relate to religion. The hosts do not to attempt to hide their own biases or opinions, but they do allow people on both sides of debate to voice their views.
Media Matters for America, 2007, Left Behind, The Skewed Representation of Religion in Major News Media, May, http://mediamatters.org/leftbehind/left_behind_report.pdf
Sunday Night Safran. 2008. Triple J. Streaming sound recording: MP3. http://www.abc.net.au/triplej/safran/ (Accessed August 1, 2008).
The Religion Report. 30 July 2008. Radio National. Streaming sound recording: MP3. http://www.abc.net.au/rn/religionreport/ (Accessed August 1, 2008).
About Triple J. 2008. http://www.abc.net.au/triplej/about/ (Accessed August 1, 2008).
Elias, M. 2004 Short Attention Span Linked to TV.
http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2004-04-05-tv-bottomstrip_x.htm (Accessed August 1, 2008).