Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1
WEDNESDAY 2 NOVEMBER 2005
Bishop of Southwark, Dr Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad,
Dr Mona Siddiqui, Dr Indarjit Singh OBE JP and Reverend Joel Edwards
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
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.
Thank you very much. As I understand it, this paper that you have
produced is a joint paper.
Bishop of Southwark: Yes.
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.
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.
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 generalas I listen to it, it becomes
more and more generaland 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
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
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 centactually 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
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.
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 peoplewe may not have
agreed on the exact percentage, but it is, I am sure, conceded
that it is extremely important to peoplewe 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
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
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.
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
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
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
coverin a way it has an obligation to educate the publicis
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 BBCand 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 Britainand 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 similaritiesand this is something
that the BBC can dothe 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