Select Committee on BBC Charter Review Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1 - 19)


Bishop of Southwark, Dr Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad, Dr Mona Siddiqui, Dr Indarjit Singh OBE JP and Reverend Joel Edwards

  Q1  Chairman: Good morning, thank you very, very much indeed for coming. Let me just explain what we are doing. This is the second part of our inquiry. We reported yesterday on the first part which was a report which the Government had asked for by the end of the month, which we did. It was greeted with muffled applause from the Government; very muffled as far as I could see. Now we are looking into a number of other areas, because we could not do full justice to all these areas in the first part, and religious broadcasting is very much part of that. We should like to thank you first for your evidence which we have all read and I will not ask you to repeat that, but it might be useful if you just briefly introduced yourselves and then we will start the questioning. Tom Butler, do you want to start?

  Bishop of Southwark: Certainly; yes. I am Tom Butler, I am Bishop of Southwark. I chair the Churches' Media Council and I am Co-Chair of the Inter Faith Network of Britain and Ireland.

  Reverend Edwards: I am Joel Edwards. I work as the General Director for the Evangelical Alliance which represents a constituency of about a million evangelicals across the UK; I occasionally appear in one or two broadcasting guises, but that is my main work.

  Dr Siddiqui: I am Mona Siddiqui. I work at the University of Glasgow, where until last year I was the Head of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies. I do a lot of religious broadcasting for the BBC and I have just been appointed Chair of the Scottish Religious Advisory Council for the BBC.

  Dr Singh: Indarjit Singh. I am the editor of the Sikh Messenger, Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations and I do some broadcasting and writing on religious issues.

  Dr Ram-Prasad: I am Ram-Prasad. I teach Hindu religions and philosophy at the University of Lancaster and I sit on the Central Religisou Advisory Committee (CRAC) as a representative of the Hindu religions.

  Q2  Chairman: Thank you very much. As I understand it, this paper that you have produced is a joint paper.

  Bishop of Southwark: Yes.

  Q3  Chairman: May I just start by asking you something about the number of people that you estimate have religious beliefs in this country? You are basically saying in the second paragraph ". . . 77 per cent of the population consider themselves to be members of a faith community". Some would say that is pretty rose-tinted, given that our next series of witnesses comes from the British Humanist Association who gave us different opinion polls which show that a populist poll on churchgoing says that 47 per cent of the nation never go to church and as far as young people are concerned, a poll in The Guardian showed that, in answer to the question "Do you believe in God?", 35 per cent said yes and 45 per cent said no. The Telegraph had a rather different poll because it was the 18-plus, but they also showed 35 per cent saying no. Do you think that figure of 71 per cent is pretty rose-tinted?

  Bishop of Southwark: It was an objective figure coming from the census, so it is not our figure, but it is a figure. I do not think we would want to put our main argument on the fact of numbers; we would not want to get into that argument. Our position is that for very many people in this country and around the world religion matters immensely and it is the responsibility of the public service broadcasting service to reflect the world as it is. In the world as it is, religion is something very significant and that is why we are giving attention to this. So whether it is 71 per cent or 60 per cent or whatever in a sense is irrelevant: it matters to a lot of people.

  Q4  Chairman: As you rightfully say, one does not want to get into an argument on statistics, but I think it can be taken that there is a high number of people who have no beliefs, like the Humanists who have beliefs but of a different kind. Would you, in saying that religion is important and therefore a public service broadcaster has a duty to express that, support people like the humanists being also given time to express their views on radio and television?

  Bishop of Southwark: I think my own reaction to that would be that they 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. That is the mindset which is reflected in most of the output. Therefore the question of the alternative religious perspective on the world perhaps does need careful attention because it is counter-cultural in our own society. So broadcasting is not excluding the humanist voice, I would say that that is the standard mindset of most of the programming.

  Dr Ram-Prasad: Colleagues in my department recently brought out a book which has received some attention internationally called The Spirit Revolution in which they go to the heart of the matter, which is that what we mean academically, in a scholarly way, by the study of religion and its place in peoples lives is not always got at by asking questions about god, for example. After all Buddhists do not believe in god, neither does a Shinto so it cannot turn on the notion of god, it cannot even turn on a notion of church attendance. There are some fairly persuasive studies to show that probably by the 14th or 15th century church attendance was roughly the same as it is now after the 19th century spike. Even if we accept that something formal like the Humanist Association has a point of view, I am not quite sure whether that would represent the views of those who answered in the negative when asked certain kinds of traditional questions about the nature of their religious beliefs. We need to have a very much more nuanced understanding of quite how people perceive the role of the sacred in their own lives and that might actually give figures which are very different to the cut and dried questions which often put people off the track of talking about themselves.

  Q5  Chairman: Take Thought for the Day which appears to be the acid test as far as religious broadcasting is concerned, at least on one level. That is fairly general—as I listen to it, it becomes more and more general—and surely someone from the British Humanist Association could put a message there just as easily as someone from a religious background.

  Bishop of Southwark: I get slightly puzzled by that question. Let us put it alongside your earlier question which in effect was: is religion that significant in the world today? We may get on to how popular religious broadcasting is or is not. One cannot have that alongside the fact that Thought for the Day is very popular and it is the religious reflection upon the news. I would maintain that the rest of the two and three quarter hours are reflecting the secular humanist mindset. What makes Thought for the Day very popular is that it is giving an alternative viewpoint and a religious viewpoint on the news of the day at its best; a theological or spiritual input. I think all of us here take part in that. It is an indication that religious broadcasting, when it is done well, can be very, very popular and valued in today's world.

  Q6  Lord Holme of Cheltenham: A problem which vexes me is that in one sense you ladies and gentlemen are a sort of trade union group; you represent churches, in other words, organised religion. Of course one of the implications of the research we are looking at, referring to people in the privacy of their own homes and to a general belief in god, is that their belief is not necessarily the same as, and coterminous, with the interests of organised religious groups. The question I would value general guidance on is how far, in looking at the BBC, should we be thinking in your terms about its coverage of spiritual issues as opposed to its representation of the interests of the religious trade union and the churches who have got themselves organised, who want to have their organisation covered.

  Dr Siddiqui: I do not represent any church and I would say that in fact, in some ways what we are arguing for is the opposite, that religious language is not something that lives and breaths and dies in textbooks: in our globalised age, religious language is something which travels and resonates thousands of miles in peoples' homes in seconds. So it is important that we talk about religious language and religion in ways that the whole world can actually identify with and not that religious programming should just be a reaction to global events. A lot of programming is really about reaction to global events, usually political events. In a way what that does not do is actually deal with those issues which are important to the ordinary believer, whether in the West or whether in the developing world (and let us bear in mind that the large majority of people in the developing world with which the West is so preoccupied now are believers of some religion). We talk in language and we make programmes which are really about the way people live and believe, not just about reaction to global political events. I would resist saying that this is really about a reflection of organised religion: it is really about how religious language sits side by side, how religious programming sits side by side in contemporary civil debates on society right across the spectrum.

  Q7  Lord Holme of Cheltenham: So you would be happy, for instance, I am not suggesting this seriously but to try to clarify the argument, if any obligations of the BBC were expressed in terms of spirituality rather than religion.

  Dr Siddiqui: The BBC itself is very aware that a huge number of people, who express an interest in or belief in, or inclination towards religion, use the term spirituality. That does not exclude religion from that. What we are saying is that it is not that the two terms are antithetical: there is room for spirituality and debate on spirituality in religion, but also vice-versa.

  Q8  Lord Maxton: I do not recognise, in the BBC in particular, your view that it represents a metropolitan liberal secular society. In fact religion is treated by the BBC with kid gloves. It is never criticised. You very rarely have a programme which puts an opposite point of view to a religious point of view. I accept it may produce programmes which are secular in the sense that they are not religious, but it does not ever, or rarely, criticise. May I come back to numbers, because they are important? What percentage of the population regularly attends church and define what you mean by regular? I do not mean going to the watch night service on Christmas Eve once a year as being regular attendance of the Church of England.

  Bishop of Southwark: On your first point that religion is treated with kid gloves, that has not been my experience on very many news programmes where, for one reason or another, I have been asked to be interviewed on some aspect or other of the life of the church and have been treated in exactly the same way as anybody else.

  Q9  Lord Maxton: The same as a politician?

  Bishop of Southwark: Yes indeed; the professionals will probe and one would expect them to and they do. I hope I will have a bit of an opportunity to say that we are not a trade union for religious programming. What we are a trade union for, if we are a trade union, is for religion to be taken seriously right the way across the output of the BBC. I would argue that it is probably more significant that the hard news programmes, where there is a religious dimension to the news, as there often is, are treated with great seriousness. I think that is where sometimes the media can let themselves down, not deliberately, but because the depth of knowledge is not there to handle the story. We saw the thing yesterday, for example, over the postage stamp and the Post Office, where obviously the consultation was not wide enough or deep enough, not because anybody was being difficult or provocative, but it did not cross people's minds. That can be typical of what can happen in the hard news programmes. So I am concerned with religion as hard news. In terms of numbers, Joel I do not know whether you would like to pursue that.

  Reverend Edwards: In terms of church attendances, it is probably somewhere around three and a half to four million who attend church regularly. This issue of hard numbers is an important one, so whether you are extrapolating from 70 per cent, 71 per cent in the official Government survey, which you could say is a nominal number, or the hard factual lower regular church attendance numbers, is important. If we are looking for numbers to legitimise importance, then politicians will have a very, very hard case to prove. What we have to demonstrate is that there is actually a residue of hunger for spirituality but sometimes religious groups in their formal structures may be good containers of and sometimes we are the best critics of ourselves for failing to represent, to reflect and to challenge the persisting and existing spirituality which is there. It is also very important that in the year 1999-2000, the BBC conducted what must have been its most exhaustive survey to date: the Soul of Britain. This showed a number of very important facts, for example, that young people under 40 thought their parents were not spiritual enough. One of the very important facts it showed up, which I was intrigued by, was that a very high percentage of people they surveyed, something like between 75 to 85 per cent—actually wanted to hear what the church had to say about critical issues such as global poverty, injustice, racism et cetera. There should not be a dualism or dichotomy between the numbers, there should be no tension between the spirituality and the role and responsibility, the challenge even, which organised religion has to respond to. The BBC must find itself in a place where it is actually dealing with those tensions and a former head of religion and ethics, Ernie Rae, once spoke about vague spirituality. I think religion has a responsibility to respond to that as well.

  Dr Singh: I am concerned about the assumption that religion and spirituality are the same thing and that religion should be confined to the home. I am speaking from a Sikh perspective. In our view our different religions are guide books on our journey through life, telling us what we should do and what we should avoid in leading a responsible life. Now if all were peace and harmony in the world, perhaps we could argue that religion is not necessary, but we know that things are very much the contrary. These guide books have largely been discarded. I think they have a great perspective to offer on life, valuable guidance, and that this should be reflected throughout broadcasting.

  Q10  Lord Peston: I am still trying to get your philosophy clarified because you referred to this bias towards the metropolitan, liberal, secular elite, which I must tell you I do not recognise at all. Now I am addressing Dr Ram-Prasad and Dr Siddiqui as they are both in religious departments; I do not know whether you call them religious studies departments. Would you apply the same theory to your universities? Would you say that really religion ought to permeate the teaching of all other subjects? You imply, for example, that the maths department is somehow metropolitan secular because religion does not enter into it, as far as I know, certainly not when I did maths. It just seems to me that your position is completely illogical. Why should religion permeate everything in that sense? Maybe you would argue that religion ought to permeate all the other departments at your university.

  Dr Ram-Prasad: I think it is a question of how exactly you permeate. The point is that there are indeed different manifestations of religion in different aspects of world experience and that is perfectly reflected in studies. We have religion in politics, religion in ecology, the management school takes us in to teach particular aspects, so if we were going to compare the departments at the university to, say, the stations and programmes on the BBC, well, yes actually, a lot of religion does pop up in different bits of the provision of the university. We also have students taking those different courses attending what is taught in our departments. So obviously physics might not have it, although in fact, I do have a grant from the John Templeton Foundation to look at physics and spiritual arguments of consciousness. Some departments might not have it however and some programmes might not have religion. There is a big difference between thinking that a very small range of provision exhausts what religion ought to be in the BBC's coverage and saying that everything ought to have religion.

  Q11  Lord Peston: You say "everything"; you say "across the output". That is not a bit, that is the lot.

  Bishop of Southwark: As I indicated a little earlier, I do not believe you can understand much of what is going on around the world in terms of hard news today without having some understanding of religion. When you try to understand, for example, what is going on in Iraq without some understanding of religion and some depth of understanding, one can make some grave errors. If it is the responsibility of the BBC, as it certainly is as a public service broadcaster, to try to report the news and explain the figures, I do not believe you can do that without a religious perspective.

  Q12  Chairman: Do you think enough has been done on that?

  Bishop of Southwark: No, I do not and I would not single out the BBC. I think the media in general have not put the resources into that aspect of human life and therefore we are inadequate in the way in which we do respond to the news and why we sometimes make grave errors. So I think there is that. The other aspect I think we were referring to is that the BBC also has a responsibility for entertaining and whether you are talking about soap operas or other programmes, they are reflecting life as it is, and in reflecting life as it is, we want to see religion taking its normal place.

  Q13  Lord Peston: That is my question. You do see religion taking its normal place. But you say that you cannot see it there. How is it that I see it there throughout just as when I look at English literature I see religion throughout? Someone does not suddenly stand up to read you a John Milton poem and maybe tell you he is religious or anything like that. I cannot quite see, forgive the Americanism, what your beef is on this?

  Dr Siddiqui: I think it is precisely because the BBC is so respected globally that I personally, and I am sure the Committee, feels that it is in a unique position and one of its aims is to be a forum for education globally. The bishop has mentioned Iraq: suddenly Iraq appeared on our screens and it was assumed that the whole population knew the difference between Sunni and Shia; yet nobody knew the difference, there should have been something that actually looked at the theological implications behind what was happening. Suddenly we are assuming that everybody in the media and everybody who is watching these programmes, even hard core news programmes, knows what the Shia coalition might look like and what their differences would be. All we are saying is that two areas are suddenly realising that there has been a huge missing link in the way they have taught things. You referred to the university departments and development is now saying that even after 50 years the reason IMF and the World Bank have not been able to erase the issue of poverty, is precisely because in those areas which are the most poverty stricken development is inextricably linked with issues of spirituality and religion. In medical schools now medical ethics are all about how we reflect the ethics of a universal global population which has different issues and different viewpoints on some of the basic issues, some of the most essential issues that we are discussing now, such as abortion and stem cells. They are now including people. This is not so that people who have religion can go in and preach to them: this is so that people who are of a religious bias or have religious knowledge can actually reflect the wider issues around their central teaching.

  Chairman: I am going to bring in the Bishop of Manchester, if I may. I know you have a more general point to raise, but you were going talk about the news as well so this may be a suitable time to come in.

  Q14  Bishop of Manchester: I am required though first of all to declare a stipendiary interest in religion. I need also to emphasise to the members of this Committee that I have taken no part in the written submission of evidence that we have had on this matter, nor, apart from courteously saying good morning to our visitors, have I engaged with this group on the matters before us. I need to say that. I want to shift the focus now to the BBC itself. We have been talking in helpful and general terms about religion and spirituality, but we are a Committee which is concerned with the BBC charter renewal and I should like to hear from all the members who are visiting us this morning their opinion about the kind of strategy that the BBC, from their perspective, ought to have on matters religious. By that I mean really two areas. The first is what traditionally might be termed religious broadcasting and we know that there is a department within the BBC, the religion and ethics department, which has particular responsibility for that. I should also like to hear you on a subject we have been touching on a little, to which the Chairman has just referred again now, which is religion in broadcasting and in what sense you feel that the BBC strategically needs to look at the way in which it provides informed opinion in the manner that you have been describing in terms of news coverage. So there are two major areas there where I would be helped by your contributions.

  Dr Singh: I think religion in broadcasting generally should look at the whole religious perspective for several reasons, one of which is the removal of ignorance about religion. If religion is important to so many people—we may not have agreed on the exact percentage, but it is, I am sure, conceded that it is extremely important to people—we need to know and understand just what those essential beliefs are, what is important and how those beliefs can contribute to society. I think the BBC can do a lot and should do a lot more in that direction. Due to the sort of social constraints of a largely secular society they are pushed into looking at religion from a perspective that often looks at the trivial rather than the essence of religious teachings. We can have a programme on Sikhs which will tell us how many chapattis are made in the Golden Temple, things like that, and nothing about the ethical teachings of religion. I think much more should be done that way, because in the end it is so easy in an atmosphere of ignorance for prejudices to arise. It is very important, especially in this day and age when people are travelling and mixing and previously distant neighbours are now next door to us, that we do understand what people are about and what motivates them, what is important to them.

  Q15  Bishop of Manchester: If I were on the BBC, I might come back to you and say that we have a religion correspondent and when items come up on the news we refer to him. Without talking about personalities, are you saying that that provision which the BBC has at the moment is inadequate?

  Dr Singh: Frankly the BBC's coverage of religious issues could certainly be improved.

  Bishop of Southwark: Typically what will happen, going back to an earlier question in terms of us being probed on the news, is that one might go on the Today programme. They will be well briefed and probing questions will be asked. If that story begins to run and there are follow-up questions, it will be a second team who will know very little about the subject at all and will even ask, and I have had this asked of me, "Bishop, what questions should I ask?". That is no longer hard probing and it is because there is not the depth of knowledge. That is what I would recommend. We are not here to lobby, but I would recommend that in terms of its hard news coverage the BBC would be stronger if it had a greater depth of knowledge of matters of religion.

  Q16  Chairman: Do either of you have any examples? We hear about the reservations. Are there any examples of where things have been done badly, particularly in explaining the different religions?

  Dr Ram-Prasad: One example which comes to mind for me actually goes back to whether or not there is adequate coverage strategically, because it is so contingent on who happens to turn up, who is the person invited. An example which comes to my mind all the time is explaining the tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. It is repeatedly represented as a religious issue unless you have some old hand, a special report by Mark Tully or people who have lived there, who know the religious background and immediately know of course that the argument is not about religion because India has got as many Muslims as Pakistan and in fact there is a massive Muslim contingent in the Indian Army operating in Kashmir. So immediately the tendency to have kind of West Wing storyline which says this is about the religions clashing over nuclear Islamic bomb versus a Hindu bomb simply misrepresents what any professional would know about the field and most people in India and Pakistan would know. The lack of strategic thinking comes from thinking "Okay, we have somebody somewhere in Asia, let's bung him in and ask him to give a report" rather than having somebody who would have the kind of training that you would expect over a longer period of time. It is entirely left to the brilliance of the individual person involved whether they know that or not and that does not argue for strategy, although it does argue for individual acts of extremely good reportage.

  Q17  Chairman: Can you give an example of where it has been done well? We are getting a lot of complaints where it has been done inadequately. Are there programmes or particular programmes where it has been done well, so we have some idea of what we are aiming at?

  Bishop of Southwark: The coverage of the death of the Pope was done extremely well, where the BBC put resources into it, drew upon expertise and as the story developed the dying of the Pope and the death of the Pope and the handling of his funeral were excellent.

  Dr Ram-Prasad: Some of the serious reports on the rise of the American right and the role of Christian conservative movement have been extremely well done once experts were brought to bear on it over the period of the first presidency of George W Bush.

  Dr Singh: Some programmes about Sikhism have been done and been well done and that is going back to 1999, which was the 300th anniversary of Sikhs in their present form. They were excellently done, but against that, there is still general ignorance. We constantly hear again and again about the three monotheistic religions meaning Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Sikh scriptures begin with the words "There is but one God". You cannot get more monotheistic than that. Someone talked about the BBC pussy-footing around religion, treating religion very sensitively. I should like to see it the other way around: more robust discussion about beliefs, about practices. It would be doing a service to religion, because so often out-dated and sometimes wrong social and cultural practices creep into religion. They need to be stripped away from religious practice so the ethical teachings can come to the fore.

  Q18  Bishop of Manchester: May I come back over the other part of my question because you helpfully talked about the news side of it and those areas of broadcasting which do not specifically come under the heading of religious broadcasting in terms of their production. Again, if I were here from the BBC, I would be asking what you guys want, because we have a religion and ethics department. What is your view about that?

  Bishop of Southwark: I think they put out some excellent stuff. The problem is that I never quite know which comes from that department and which does not. For example, the series The Monastery was riveting, it had a high audience, competing with Celebrity Island on another channel and it was noticeable that week by week the numbers of viewers to The Monastery went up and the others went down. So there are some good programmes. I would want to question the BBC about where the programmes are actually placed on the schedule, on what channel and at what time of day. Again, I do not know where it came from but the programme on Jonathan Miller two days ago, A Complete History of Unbelief, was riveting; it was at peak time and one rarely has a religious programme of that intensity scheduled, probably on BBC2 but I am not sure, at peak time which meant people had a chance of seeing it. That is partly my complaint: not the quality of the programmes, but where they appear on the schedule.

  Q19  Baroness Howe of Idlicote: Quite a lot of what I wanted to probe has already been discussed quite fully, but I was looking at a statement you make about religion having become a much more significant and potent force in world affairs and I do not think anybody would disagree with that comment. Equally, in this country the range of religions has multiplied, I would say even within the particular religions that there are different factions and so on. You equally say that the reasons for your concerns are good and bad. Given what you have been saying about the need to explain the different religions and their point of view et cetera, et cetera and not forgetting history, the crusades will give us one example, that religions have really been seen as a factor for conflict in the past, wrongly or rightly, clearly the importance of getting a right balance, reflecting what you all think is the best path and the best contribution of religion should play a fairly high part. Do you think currently the different religions in this country are reflected in the right proportion? Is there a sufficient representation on CRAC of all the different religions really to see the advice you are giving is going right across the board?

  Dr Siddiqui: May I start with the last comment about CRAC? 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. One of the things we are trying to discuss with Ofcom and the BBC at the next meeting is the exact role of CRAC because it is an anomalous position. In terms of representation, I think that there is an adequate representation of the different faith communities. Perhaps once we know what our real role is, apart from just looking at programme recordings and commenting on them and talking generally about BBC religious output, then we might be able to discuss representation. However, in terms of the earlier question or the reflection you made about faith communities, maybe one area that the BBC should cover—in a way it has an obligation to educate the public—is not simply to educate on the history of different faiths, because that presumes that the different faiths are all monoliths and all Muslims and all Sikhs and all Hindus think alike, but actually to reflect the diversity within these faiths. A lot of the conflicts that we see are actually intra-faith diversities and not inter-faith. In some ways those people who write to the BBC—and I will give you an example of a recent Panorama programme which ended up being really a kind of rise and fall of the Muslim Council of Britain—and complain that the BBC has done a disservice to them . . . In some ways the BBC has not because what they were reflecting were people who were in that organisation and out of that organisation, reflecting where the MCB stood in Britain today. Now that is a challenging programme because it is actually stepping out of strictly religious history or religious faith interpretation or faith reflection and looking seriously at an organisation which puts itself forward as a mouthpiece for Muslims in Britain. That is where the BBC is at its best in those programmes which are slightly on the edge and are really aiming to reflect diversity and conflict of opinions within religions, because essentially what people who are of religious faith are talking about most of the time are the different diversities.

  Dr Singh: The point about the differences within a religion is very important and some education on this is needed. However, the other point, the other extreme, is that we often look at different religions as though they are completely different. We do not look enough at the similarities—and this is something that the BBC can do—the huge area of overlap between our different religions. We should respect the differences, but there is a huge area of overlap and a little more focusing on that sometimes could be extremely helpful in making this a more cohesive society.

  Reverend Edwards: In the aftermath of Jerry Springer the Opera, which we remember well, I had the opportunity of meeting with the Controller of BBC. One of the points we were seeking to make was that, the Christian community in particular, not exclusively but in particular, had some difficulties with it and made our strong objections. In the aftermath of that, we still found out that some opportunities were missed for a more massive educational task. In fairness to the BBC, when a number of us went to make a presentation to them before the broadcast, they undertook to follow up the transmission with some educational material which was done in part. I think the conversation we were having was not dissimilar to the one we want to have with you today. This is that faith does not come in a kind of confrontational, "Please let's grab more territory for faiths" argument. It really is an argument about the full quality of life and opportunities to enhance the professionalism of the BBC by ensuring that a kind of dualism by which religion is compartmentalised as a private sphere does not actually undercut professionalism within broadcasting and actually cheat the public. So one would hope that in representing religion, either in religious broadcasting or more widely in news items, we do not present the kind of dualism which marginalises faith. But we recognise that everything, from the global impact of religion to its local and community impact, is highly transformational, with some magnificent stories as yet untold. The BBC should continue the good work it has begun and seeks to represent religion, our failures, our difficulties, our links with extreme behaviour as well as some of the more redemptive aspects of religion in the community. There is still a story waiting to be told and one of the arguments I would have with commissioners and producers is that very often, in the interest of sensationalisation, they are actually selling out to what is, in my experience, still a very pervasive anti-religious sentiment which actually works very vigorously in the editorial suites. If we could actually by-pass that, I think we would find that there is very good material around within the religious world to enhance broadcasting and make a positive contribution to communities. So it would be very interesting to see, for example, how the BBC positions itself as we approach the bi-centenary of abolitionism and what stories of faith will be told in the context of that important and still contemporary issue. I think the faiths would want to say: can we partner you and ensure that a good story is told professionally in a way which is educational?

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