Select Committee on BBC Charter Review Written Evidence

Memorandum by L Donaldson

  I understand that you are seeking answers to two specific questions relating to "faith" and the BBC.

Question—Do different faiths (including no faith beliefs) figure sufficiently in BBC programmes and services?

  Answer—"Faith" is grotesquely over-represented in every powerhouse of society—their Lordships' House being an obvious example. Religion gained power, over thousands of years, by fighting for it. This fight continues this very day—the Vatican is actively campaigning, lobbying and bullying for greater influence in the institutions of the EU In our modern world, powerhouses, including the BBC, need to be protected from religion's warring factions and would-be leaders.

  The BBC is already religion-heavy, to the detriment of important areas such as ethics and spirituality. The BBC's Department of Religion and Ethics is a misnomer—it's all "religion"? and no pure "ethics"—only "religious ethics". I have spent the last hour scouring the Religion and Ethics website and can find no article or discussion of ethics that is free of religion. (There is great mention of "pagans"—maybe the BBC think that non-believers fall into this category—we're worshiping the moon and the stars, or the mushrooms and the rain—yet to be converted.)

  The department's flagship broadcasting slot, Thought for the Day on Radio 4, probably has more listeners than all other religious programming put together—thanks to its timing. Yet there has never been a contributor with "no faith beliefs"—the words in your question. Free "thought" has been banned despite repeated requests for access to Thought for the Day by various non-religious groups.

  Faith-free people are, at best, ignored by the department but there are examples of programming, such as Beyond Belief on Radio 4, that actively mock and belittle non-believers and secularists. Is there a programme that actively mocks and belittles Muslims or Jews?

Question—How should faiths be represented in BBC programmes, services and governance?

  Answer—I am utterly astounded that, in 2005, you even consider that "faiths" could be represented in the governance of the BBC. The BBC is, in my view, the most important cultural institution in the UK We do not expect, let alone "require", lesser cultural bodies, say the National Theatre or the Tate, to carry religious messages. Similarly we do not insist that such bodies have a specified number of religious directors.

  The BBC is also one of the greatest gatherers and disseminators of news. Looking at those cranky religious broadcasters in the United States, what level-headed European could respect any "news" pumped-out by such organisations? BBC News needs robust protection from all outside influences, including preachers.

  The BBC has an important role to play in covering topics that are ignored, for commercial reasons, by other broadcasters. I think and feel that the various strands of religion can continue to be catered for—but with only the same degree of commitment as, say, jazz or poetry.

10 October 2005

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