Religion and the BBC's public
157. Through the commitments the Government asks
the BBC to make in the Charter and associated Agreement with the
Secretary of State, it can influence the BBC's approach to religious
158. The current Agreement between the Secretary
of State and the BBC states that the BBC must support certain
types of programming. The types of programming specified include
religious programming, programmes that reflect UK cultural activity
(through drama, comedy, arts, music and feature film); programmes
addressing international and social issues; and programming reflecting
different communities, interests and traditions within the UK
159. The Green Paper suggests that one of the
future roles of the BBC should be to provide a range of programming
"reflecting different religions and other beliefs that is
appropriate to multi-faith Britain. Such programming in prominent
positions in both TV and radio schedules, reflecting diversity
within, as well as between faiths and beliefs. Such programming
should include coverage of acts of worship and key events in the
religious calendar, as well as drama and current affairs programming
that explore religious issues and other belief systems in different
ways, for different audiences."
160. The multi-faith panel did not believe that
the guidance in the Green Paper goes far enough in ensuring that
the BBC's portrayal of religion would be fair. They told us that
"The Agreement that accompanies the new Charter should guarantee
that the religious dimension of national and international life
is fully acknowledged and lay down some criteria to ensure that
all faiths are faithfully, knowledgeably and fairly portrayed
across the output, not just religious broadcasting". When
asked to explain what they meant by a fair portrayal Dr Siddiqui
explained that when the BBC show a programme about one extreme
version of a faith they should have a duty to explain that was
just one arm of that faith "So the neo-conservative rise
in America is a reflection of a particularly worrying trend for
some people who are also Christians but who do not agree with
that rise. Islamic radicalism is also a rising threat to Muslim
communities themselves; it is a threat, but it should also show
how Muslim communities themselves are worried about it" (Q 27).
161. While we note the multi-faith panel's concerns,
we also note that the BBC is already bound by the Ofcom Broadcasting
Code, the purpose of which is "To ensure that broadcasters
exercise the proper degree of responsibility with respect to the
content of programmes which are religious programmes; to ensure
that religious programmes do not involve any improper exploitation
of any susceptibilities of the audience for such a programme and
to ensure that religious programmes do not involve any abusive
treatment of the religious views and beliefs of those belonging
to a particular religion or religious denomination."
Therefore the Broadcasting Code already exists to ensure the fair
treatment of religion. However, we do believe the BBC should have
further duties to ensure viewers and listeners are given the opportunity
to learn more about the different religions and other belief systems.
We therefore recommend that the BBC should be given a duty
within the Agreement with the Secretary of State to make sure
viewers and listeners have a better understanding of the different
religions and other belief systems through the objective portrayal
of their different beliefs, practices and forms of worship.
162. We also note that although the Communications
Act 2003, the Ofcom Broadcasting Code and the Green Paper all
refer to coverage of religions "and other beliefs" several
of our witnesses were concerned that the BBC failed to provide
programming for those with non-religious belief systems. The British
Humanist Association told us that the BBC provides religious programming,
and programming that has nothing to do with any belief system,
but fails to provide programming that reflects non-religious belief
systems. They argued that many people in this country are interested
in such belief systems. David Pollock, a former Chairman of the
British Humanist Association, went so far as to suggest that "the
BBC is quite deliberately ignoring the requirements which are
placed on it by the Human Rights Act as a public authority and
by the Communications Act in section 264 to treat equally religions
and beliefs across the spectrum" (Q 52). Given that
the membership of the British Humanist Association is just over
5,000 it is hard to estimate how many people are interested in
such a belief system (Q 67).
163. The members of the multi-faith panel were
sceptical about the need to provide more programming about non-religious
beliefs. The Bishop of Southwark argued that those with non-religious
beliefs "have an enormous amount of time because the kind
of standard mindset of the media, and particularly the broadcasting
services, is the mindset of metropolitan secular humanism (Q 4)".
However, Hanne Stinson, the Executive Director of the British
Humanist Association, was clear that programmes that dealt with
no belief were very different from those dealing with non-religions
belief. She stated that "What they should be doing is actually
comparing the small percentage of religious broadcasting against
the non-existent percentage of broadcasting about specifically
humanistic, positive, non-religious beliefs. I do not mean atheism;
I mean positive non-religious beliefs, because that is where the
gap is" (Q 52).
164. The programme that seems to raise the most
controversy by excluding non-religious belief systems is BBC Radio
4's Today programme slot "Thought for the Day". "Thought
for the Day" is a two minutes forty second daily slot which
Alan Bookbinder described to the Committee as a "a moment
for religious and spiritual reflection in the middle of an entirely
secular programme (Q 179). He went on to state that "it
is very much a slot reserved for the religious and spiritual and
not secular" (Q 178). It is the policy within the English
version of "Thought for the Day" that all speakers come
from a religious perspective.
165. However, this policy differs from that of
BBC Northern Ireland. BBC Radio Ulster broadcast its "Thought
for the Day" slot twice each day at 6.55am and 7.55am. The
talks on Monday and Friday are live, those from Tuesday to Thursday,
pre-recorded. BBC Northern Ireland told us that "contributors
to the programme are chosen, not on the basis that they represent
a particular denomination or faith or a nondenominational or secular
interest group, but because it is considered they have something
useful or important to say and that they can say it in an engaging
and accessible way." While "the great majority of the
contributors would come from a faith background
in the course
of a year, there would be a small numberperhaps 3 or 4who
would not necessarily be religious believers. They are chosen
on the basis of what has been stated above, not because they may
be humanists, atheists or agnostics" (p 160). As we have
emphasised in this report and our earlier report, it is vital
that internal editorial BBC decisions are made independently of
any kind of political pressure. It is not our role to make internal
editorial BBC decision. These should be made independently of
any kind of political pressure.
166. It is our recommendation that the BBC
should review its programme output to ensure that it complies
with the Communications Act 2003 by providing services of a suitable
quality and range dealing with religion and other beliefs.
The Central Religious Advisory
167. The Central Religious Advisory Committee
(CRAC) meets regularly to discuss religious broadcasting issues.
The membership encompasses both religious and lay, with members
drawn from the main Christian denominations and other world religions.
Members come from every part of the UK, and act not as delegates
but as individuals, while clearly taking account of religious
constituencies' views in helping shape religious broadcasting
168. The aim of CRAC is to enable clear and open
communication between the BBC and the various religious constituencies.
Members view programmes after transmission but not before. Broadcasters'
religious broadcasting policies take CRAC advice into account,
but editorial responsibility always remains firmly with the broadcaster.
All papers and minutes of CRAC meetings are circulated to BBC
senior management, who also attend CRAC sessions and ensure that
CRAC concerns are aired at the appropriate level.
169. According to the BBC Governors' web site
CRAC "advises the BBC and Ofcom on religion-related policies
and coverage. Its members are appointed jointly by the BBC and
the Ofcom Content Board."
However we uncovered some ambiguity about the role of CRAC. Dr
Siddiqui, a member of CRAC, told us "CRAC has an anomalous
role in some way because it is an official advisory committee
to the BBC, but it is an unofficial advisory committee to Ofcom
as well and it sits somewhere in between" (Q 19).
170. Mr Tim Suter, Partner for Contents and Standards
at Ofcom, told us that CRAC "is not a committee of Ofcom,
it is a BBC committee" (Q 1496). He also denied that
its members were appointed jointly by Ofcom and the BBC, stating
they were a BBC appointment that Ofcom are consulted about (Q 1502).
However, he did say that CRAC has a role in "assisting the
regulator in forming conclusions about issues in relation to whether
a particular [BBC] programme was appropriate and whether it was
offensive to different groups" (Q 1496).
171. We were surprised at the differing perceptions
of CRAC's role that we observed between the BBC, CRAC's members
and Ofcom. Indeed, it is not at all clear what the role of CRAC
is or whether it adds value to the broadcasting of religion. We
therefore recommend that the position of CRAC be reviewed and
clarified by the BBC in consultation with Ofcom.
51 Ofcom Review of Public Service Television Broadcasting:
Phase 1: Is television special; para. 16. Back
Ofcom: Religious Programmes: A report of the key findings of a
qualitative research study conducted by Counterpoint Research;
May 2005. Back
Ofcom Review of Public Service Television Broadcasting: Phase
1: Is television special?; figure 33. Back
Ofcom Broadcasting Code, para. 4.1. Back
Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Review of the BBC's Royal
Charter: A strong BBC, independent of government, March 2005,
pp. 40, 41. Back
The Ofcom Broadcasting Code, p. 22. Back