Select Committee on BBC Charter Review Written Evidence


Memorandum by the Vivekananda Centre London and the Hindu Council (UK)

1.  HINDUISM AND THE BBC

    (a)  Response to the first question:

    Do different faiths figure sufficiently?

    Response: Hinduism does not figure sufficiently

    (b)  Response to the second question:

    How should faiths be presented in BBC programmes, services and governance?

    Detailed analyses of the aspects of Hinduism that are absent and detailed evidence of aspects of Hinduism portrayed that are seriously flawed are presented. Suggestions for a way forward are presented in the conclusion.

2.  THE BBC'S FAILURE TO PORTRAY THE KEY FEATURES OF HINDUISM

  The key themes of Hinduism that the BBC (to our knowledge) has never explored in depth are:

    (a)  Religious Pluralism, which accepts and celebrates many pathways for making spiritual progress incorporating theistic as well as non-theistic approaches. It is religious pluralism that allows many religions to co-exist on a rational format. It is religious pluralism that allows religions to co-exist with full dignity and without compromise. It is this feature of Hinduism that holds the answer to how people of different faiths can co-exist peacefully in a multi-faith society. Despite the serious need to invoke this theme in its programming to diffuse the issue of strife in the name of religion post 9/11, the BBC production teams have failed to do so.

    (b)  The Divinity of mankind is the conclusion of the Hindu religion. This teaching offers the highest dignity to mankind. It transfers reverence reserved for an invisible being in an invisible plane to reverence for all living things here and now. It defines the worship of God as service to mankind. The most potent aspect of this teaching is that it displaces materialistic humanism with spiritual humanism. It gives the best reason for being altruistic. It teaches that the reason why we should value life is not because we are all made from the same sophisticated lumps of carbon but because we are all expressions of the spirit. The BBC has not explored the Hindu version of humanism, called Spiritual humanism.

    (c)  Reconciling the truth claims of Science and Religion is a theme Hindu teachings are well geared to explore, but no such programme has ever been commissioned. Hindu teachings are in broad agreement with the theory of evolution, the big bang, quantum mechanics and the life sciences. Such exploration can make religious teachings interesting and exciting and may even lead the way for modern sciences to take conceptual leaps towards unifying science with spirituality.

3.  THE BBC'S POOR AND INACCURATE PORTRAYAL OF HINDUISM

  Our experience with the BBC Religion and Ethics programme makers clearly suggests that these team members have very poor knowledge or grasp of Hinduism. They are not familiar with any of the key teachings of Hinduism outlined above. Most of them think that Hinduism is not a religion in a real sense but is just a way of life; a social phenomenon incorporating Hereditary Caste, Polytheism, Holy Cow, Sati, Kali etc. This is why a very idiosyncratic version of Hinduism gets portrayed. We offer two prime examples of such poor and inaccurate portrayal of Hinduism, one focused on caste and the other on Kali.

    (a)  Radio 4 "Sunday programme" on 26 September 2004.  One of the issues examined in this programme was to see if caste discrimination is operating in the UK. The programme makers were informed that just as the English Class system operating in Christian England cannot be said to be Christianity; the hereditary caste operating in India is not Hinduism. Hereditary caste does not have sanction within the scriptures of authority of Hinduism, so the programme should make this clear. The programme did no such thing. When we were interviewed and asked where in the UK the hereditary caste system is being practised, the BBC was told: "The royal family is the best example of the hereditary caste system being practised with full pomp and glory in the UK." All such comments were edited out of the programme presumably to continue to propagate the idea that hereditary caste system is Hinduism. The BBC presenter Martin Stott had a wonderful opportunity of correcting this serious misconception parading as Hinduism but chose to perpetuate this biased image of Hinduism. Another speaker on the programme, Dr Eleanor Nesbitt from Warwick University was also shocked by the final version of the programme that ignored her serious reservations that "the caste issue should not be presented as a criticism specifically directed at Hindus.'' One week before the programme was broadcast we had written at length to Jennifer Daniel, the BBC researcher, pointing out to her that saying that the hereditary caste is Hinduism, is equal to suggesting that the crusades are Christianity. The hereditary caste system is an atrocity perpetuated in the name of Hinduism but is certainly not Hinduism. Yet none of our comments were taken into consideration. The programme also interviewed a lady complaining about another elderly lady not prepared to touch her or that some boys were wearing T-shirts with "Jat" written on it. This is the best the Sunday programme could come up with to show that the hereditary caste system of the Hindus being practised in the United Kingdom! Yet the programme had done its work of undermining Hinduism by suggesting that Hinduism promotes a hereditary caste system. Appendix (a) enclosed contains most of the email exchanges relating to this programme.

    (b)  Radio 4 documentary broadcast on 15 September 2003 titled Sisters of Kali The BBC Radio 4 team examined the life of an Irish lady called Margaret Noble who became a disciple of Vivekananda and followed him to India to dedicate her life for the welfare of the sick and needy in Kolkata. She chose to work within the framework and integrity of Hinduism. The programme did not focus on the spiritual force that took her to India but chose instead to present her as an "Irish Terrorist" and went so far as to link her with the recent Sri Lankan suicide bombers, even though Margaret Nobel lived in India about 100 years earlier! To demean Margaret Noble the programme was conveniently titled "Sisters of Kali". Contrast this with the BBC's presentation of Mother Teresa who also went to Kolkata to work for the needy; she did not operate within the integrity of Hinduism but was there as a Christian missionary. She is portrayed as a saintly figure compared to this Irish lady who is presumed to be a terrorist, even though not the slightest bit of evidence was offered to prove any such activity. Today the whole Hindu nation calls Margaret Noble "Sister Nivedita" or the "dedicated one"; one who dedicated her life for the Hindu cause. William James the famous Harvard academic said of Margaret Noble that she was a person of extraordinarily fine character, a very deliberate and balanced individual but the BBC presenter Mike Thompson equated her to a suicide bomber!

4.  THE BBC AND HINDUISM

  The above examples 4(a) and 4(b) are used in our textbook Hinduism for Schools—Appendix (c) as classic examples students can use to explore media bias against religious teachings at GCSE level.

5.  CONCLUSION

  The BBC has not only failed to produce or promote programmes focusing on any of the key teachings of Hinduism listed earlier, it has produced some very biased programmes denigrating Hinduism. Such programmes reflect a very limited and poor grasp of Hinduism by many of it producers, presenters and researchers. Such poor portrayals of Hinduism undermine the validity of this religion and obstruct it from playing an important role in reviving and refreshing the message of spirituality for a modern multi-faith society.

6.  THE POOR PRESENTATION OF HINDUISM BY THE BBC CAN BE INTERPRETED AS INSTITUTIONAL ANTI-HINDU BIAS PREVALENT AT THE BBC

  The reasons for supporting this assumption are:

    (a)  For many years now we have been offering suggestions to the BBC for making programmes that contain the crucial and dynamic themes of Hinduism like Religious Pluralism or Science and Spirituality, but we have received no encouragement. Appendix (b) contains a series of emails sent to various BBC departments.

    (b)  Whenever we have complained or tried to correct serious errors in the presentation of Hinduism we have received a very cold and negative response from "all" concerned. The very uniform negative attitude we detect from all BBC departments makes us suspect institutional anti-Hindu bias at play.

    (c)  We know of no Hindu who has told us that the BBC does a good job of presenting Hinduism. In fact every Hindu we have spoken to on this issue has told us that overall the BBC does a very poor job of presenting Hinduism and most of them think that it is strongly anti-Hindu. Even if this opinion may be questionable, this is how the Hindus perceive the BBC.

    (d)  Anything that may show Hinduism in a poor light is immediately picked up by the BBC programme makers, while anything that may show Hinduism in a glorious light remains ignored by the BBC. (Eg producing documentaries on controversial figureheads of Hinduism rather than the more acceptable ones).

7.  THE WAY FORWARD

  On 29 September 2005 we had a very fruitful meeting with Mr Bookbinder, the head of Religion and Ethics at the BBC, with some of his executives. The openness Mr Bookbinder has shown to our concerns makes us feel that we have at long last found someone within the BBC who is able to appreciate our frustration. Our case is simple: we wish to displace the serious misconceptions that are allowed to parade as Hinduism so that the real, dynamic aspects of Hinduism that have the power to make religious programmes interesting, exciting and relevant in a modern multi-faith society are given an opportunity to be commissioned and broadcast.

8.  SUGGESTIONS

    (a)  Promote commissioning programmes discussed in 3(a) 3(b) and 3(c)

    (b)  Need to "educate" the BBC staff on the correct version of Hinduism rather than what they perceive as Hinduism.

    (c)  As a safety measure, there is a need to involve a Hindu consultant to oversee commissioning, production and editing process on programmes dealing with Hinduism

10 October 2005



 
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