Select Committee on BBC Charter Review Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Senior Members of Faith Communities

  1.  The public nature of the BBC's funding through a universal licence fee places on it an obligation to serve the whole of the British public. The Agreement that accompanies the Charter therefore needs to set in place checks and balances to ensure that the BBC's view of the world is sufficiently widely informed to support and enable this obligation to be met. The BBC ought not to see the world entirely through the prism of the metropolitan liberal and secular elite's values which inevitably inform the editorial process for the majority of the programme makers.

  2.  It may have surprised some broadcasters that at the last (2001) census[1] 71.5 per cent of the UK population voluntarily and in the privacy of their own home declared positively that they were Christian. Taken together with those of other faiths (3 per cent Muslim, 1 per cent Hindu, 1.5 per cent others including Sikhs, Jews and Buddhists) this means that 77 per cent of the population consider themselves to be members of a faith community.

  The fact that this is not reflected in the output of the BBC in general indicates that the Agreement and the Charter should contain a formal public service commitment to the fair reflection of religion in broadcasting, across the output not just in religious programmes. We are encouraged that recent comments from senior BBC figures have acknowledged that there is more the BBC could do to connect with the faith communities.[2] A formal commitment would support and maintain this.

  It is worth noting that the number of people who attend church services on any Sunday in Britain[3] is considerably greater than the membership of all the major political parties put together[4]. Indeed, one in four adults worships once a month or more in Britain's Churches.[5] According to a recent poll, the number of Muslims praying five times a day or more[6] is likely to exceed the attendance at political rallies even at election time. But this is in no way reflected in the prominence devoted to religious issues, as opposed to politics.

  3.  It is a part of the remit of public service broadcasting, and therefore also of the BBC, to open the eyes of the licence-paying public to the character of the world in which they live, through news, current affairs, documentaries, drama and entertainment. An understanding of religion needs to be at the core of this.

  Religion has become a much more significant and potent force in world affairs and politics than it was 30 years ago. There is a mixture of reasons for this, some good and some bad. The collapse of Soviet Communism, partly the result of religion at its best, removed institutional atheism from Eastern Europe. Few predicted the destruction of apartheid in South Africa without massive violence, but Christian leadership paid a significant part in that transition. The Taliban, al-Quaida, some manifestations of Christian fundamentalism provide less happy examples of powerful forces that are religiously motivated.

  It is undeniable that the easy assumption of a generation ago that religion and modernity did not go together is no longer sustainable. The idea that secularisation and material prosperity inevitably link hands to reduce the power of religion scarcely explains what is happening in the United States or Korea, let alone the explosion of religious activity in China just at the time when personal wealth increases.

  It sometimes seems to be a frequent assumption that what is taken to be the state of religion in Western Europe is normative, whereas the picture is more varied than the stereotyped and generalised view that Europe is secular. Moreover, the faith picture in Europe is exceptional in relation to the world in which we live and, although the standard of the BBC's political interpretation of world events in news and current affairs is very high indeed, the religious dimension is treated much more patchily and often far more cursorily. For example, the attacks on Christian churches in Iraq have been interpreted poorly and without much comprehension of the religious history of that country. Indeed there has been very little on religion in Iraq—for example the different traditions within Islam.

  4.  One key role of the BBC is to reflect the cultural life of the nation. Religion is central to the identity of many people, not just abroad but in the United Kingdom. Any definition of public service needs to recognise this, but it is often portrayed by the BBC as the badge of the eccentric or extremist.

  All faiths have an important contribution to make to this rich mix. Again, it is important that programmes reflect this. It is worth noting that in 2003, 86 per cent of people questioned said that they had gone into a place of worship during the previous 12 months.[7] More than 60 per cent of the people asked, of any faith or (significantly) none, said they would not wish the local place of worship to be lost to community.[8]

  5.  Our Conclusion:

  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, and that worship is accorded an appropriate place in the schedules. Religious themes can resonate with audiences as much as historical, arts, and scientific content.

  We would value the opportunity to explore these issues with the Select Committee in greater detail.

  Rt Rev Tom Butler, (Church of England) Bishop of Southwark (also Chair of the Churches' Media Council;[9] Co-Chair of the Inter Faith Network.[10])

  Rt Revd Kieran Conry, (Roman Catholic) Bishop of Arundel and Brighton (signed +Graham Norvic).

  Rt Revd Graham James, (Church of England) Bishop of Norwich (also Chair of the Central Religious Advisory Committee (CRAC).[11]

  Ms Rachel Lampard, Secretary for Parliamentary and Political Affairs, Methodist Church of Great Britain, member of CRAC.

  Rabbi Barry Marcus, Chief Rabbi's Representative on CRAC.

  Dr Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad, University of Lancaster, member of CRAC (signed Mona Siddiqui).

  Dr Mona Siddiqui, Head of Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Glasgow and member of CRAC (signed Indarjit Singh).

  Mr Indarjit Singh, OBE, JP; Editor, Sikh Messenger; Director, Network of Sikh Organisations.[12]

29 April 2005

1   Census, April 2001, Office for National Statistics Back

2   BBC Director-General's speech to Stationers' Livery Company, March 2005 Back

3   ORB Survey, October 2003 Back

4   `What the parties Claim,' The Guardian, Monday 12 April 2004,,1190230,00.html Back

5   ORB Survey, October 2003 Back

6   ICM Muslims Poll for The Guardian, November 2004 Back

7   ORB Survey, October 2003 Back

8   ORB Survey, October 2003 Back

9   The Churches Media Council includes the following churches: Church of England; Roman Catholic Church; Methodist Church; The Free Churches' Group; Baptist Union of Great Britain; Salvation Army; Evangelical Alliance; United Reformed Church; Church of Wales; Church of Scotland; Scottish Episcopal Church; Church of Ireland. Back

10   The Inter Faith Network for the UK works to build good relations between the different religious communities in the UK at both national and local levels. Back

11   The Central Religious Advisory Committee (CRAC) meets regularly to discuss religious broadcasting issues and advise the BBC and Ofcom about policies and coverage. Back

12   The Network of Sikh Organisations is a loose linking of gurdwaras and other Sikh bodies to facilitate the development of common approaches to spiritual and secular life. Back

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