Radio 4 presenter Roger Bolton, above, has accused the BBC of ‘coming up short’ in religious broadcasting, saying he’s ‘worried’ about the output of the corporation and its ‘whole approach’ to religion.
According to this report, Bolton thinks that the BBC needs to take religion more seriously in an era where it is essential the public understands it.
His words follow the announced departure of Aaqil Ahmed, the BBC’s Head of Religion and Ethics, who is leaving after 20 years at the corporation as departments are shifted.
Lord Hall of Birkenhead, above, the BBC’s Director-General, this week disclosed he has appointed James Purnell to take overall responsibility of religious content, along with his other new corporate responsibilities overseeing radio and education.
Lord Hall claimed the appointment demonstrated that the BBC was taking “one of the big issues of our times” seriously, pledging to personally head up roundtable conversations with senior British religious leaders early next year.
But Bolton argues that assurances are not enough.
Writing in next edition of the Radio Times, Bolton, a member of the Sandford St Martin Trust which aims to promote religion in broadcasting, suggested the decision to put Songs of Praise out to tender has rung alarm bells. He asked:
Why should viewers care?. Isn’t the important thing that the programme is being made, not who makes it?
As a former independent producer I have a lot of sympathy with that view but, frankly, I’m more worried by the BBC’s whole approach to religion.
Just six months after the Archbishop of Canterbury called in these very pages for broadcasters to take religion seriously, it seems the BBC is doing anything but.
Many people my age once thought that religion was a declining influence in the world and didn’t pay it a great deal of attention. As the historian Simon Schama put it: ‘My generation grew up thinking that religion was completely marginal to British life, which, as for the rest of the world, has been proved more and more wrong…’
This is not about promoting faith; it’s about promoting knowledge and understanding – surely a central role of a public service broadcaster? But the BBC is coming up short.
In particular, Bolton said, the absence of an experienced, dedicated head of religion and ethics was a strange contrast within a BBC which has “editors for almost everything under the sun”.
Earlier this month, the BBC announced it planned to do more to reflect religion in current affairs, drama and factual programming.
Saying it would do more to represent faiths “across the board”, a source added:
Faith is remarkably important. The BBC can and must do more to ensure that the important role faith plays is recognised and reflected in our programming.
Writing of the plans to appoint a senior executive to “sit on the Board of Governors to draw up new programme ideas”, Bolton added:
Well, that should be interesting. Not many creative programme ideas in the past came from the Board of Governors. Still, it suggests a growing awareness that the present position is untenable. We live in hope.
But perhaps it’s not Christian bias we should worry about but something far more worrying when it comes to understanding and interpreting our modern world: a bias against taking religion seriously.