Radio presenter accuses BBC of not taking religion seriously

Radio presenter accuses BBC of not taking religion seriously November 28, 2016

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.

Arguing that religion could no longer be seen as a declining influence in the world, he added it is essential for the BBC to promote knowledge and understanding of different faiths.
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…’

Now, he argues, it is essential for young people and immigrants to understand the crucial role of Christianity in the formation of British culture, and for the public to have enough knowledge of the Shia/Sunni split to navigate current affairs in the Middle East.

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.

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  • andym

    I agree. I’d also like the BBC to take religious broadcasting more seriously. I’d like to see fewer programmes unquestionably promoting a religious view,or plain worship, and give more time to how little history there actually is in religious books and how religions plainly contradict each other, even when they’re saying, “we all worship the same God.”

  • Graham Martin-Royle

    I agree with andym, religion itself doesn’t need to be taken seriously but we do need to understand the differing religions & the BBC should be taking a lead in seriously studying religious tracts, not to promote them as “true” but to show how little factual evidence is in them.
    We need to stop pussyfooting around religion and to stand up to it.

  • remigius

    “…the decision to put Songs of Praise out to tender has rung alarm bells.”
    Why don’t you put in a bid, Barry?
    I’m always up for a bit of singing, and I’m sure the other commenters could help rewrite some hymns.

  • Dave

    Songs of Praise is being put out to tender? I would have thought being put out to pasture would be more appropriate.

  • tonye

    If I were to approach a person on the street and insist that I had an invisible best friend, I would, at best, be treated with caution.
    Add the magic word ‘ religion’ to the above scenario and people, like Bolton, want it to be taken seriously.
    According to my Mum I had an invisible friend when I was about 5, but grew out of it. Bolton please do the same.

  • remigius

    tonye, “If I were to approach a person on the street and insist that I had an invisible best friend, I would, at best, be treated with caution.”
    I don’t think you would. There is a country in Europe that has an invisible king. An imaginary friend is nothing (quite literally) compared to that.

  • Bill Bonk

    Religion has to be taken VERY SERIOUSLY INDEED because it is so dangerous, divisive and retarding. The CoE and the Catholics and are awash with dosh and are quite capable of funding their content on commercial channels rather than leeching off the license payer. I’d like to keep R4 Today TFTD though … its so refreshing to have a daily lift of one’s self esteem against the lowly benchmark of the truly batty, disconnected and dishonest pious “thinkers”.

  • Angela_K

    People such as Mr Bolton are determined to shove religion at us in spite of the fact that non belief continues to rise and that a survey a couple of years ago showed that religion was bottom of the list of what people wanted more of on TV. Put religious propaganda on the satellite channels.

  • sailor1031

    Mr Bolton has made a weak case for teaching of history and current affairs but none whatever for religion. Simon Schama had it right first time religion is completely marginal to British life – if recent studies are correct it is even more marginal today than when Schama was growing up.

  • barriejohn

    Justin Welby was saying similar things just recently. They seem to have found a new voice now.
    As members of the Jewish and Christian communities, it is imperative that we remind the nation that our values have not emerged within a secular vacuum; but from the resilient and eternal structure of our Judeo-Christian theological, philosophical and ethical heritage.
    Our understanding of the rights and responsibilities that flow from our God-given inheritance as human beings, enable us – Jewish and Christian communities together – to be powerful and compelling advocates for freedom in British society.

  • Brian Jordan

    “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 a complete misunderstanding. The CofE was just about dead on its feet when suddenly, Hey Presto! an influx of religiously-minded people appeared from abroad and reminded the CofE what it was missing. Religion remained completely marginal to the indigenous population. As for international importance, that has geopolitics at its root.

  • Paul

    More religion. What drivel. The flailings of drowning men.
    They all need a damn good stoning.

  • Angela_K
  • L.Long

    Bolton does not take religions seriously!!! If he did then where are the programs talking about the various religions? Comparing them? He does not want BBC taking them seriously, he wants the BBC pushing HIS religion seriously!!
    And I know his religion is stupid as one can get!

  • barriejohn
  • Stuart H.

    As it happens, I met Bolton once – some 25 years ago – when he was telling media campaign groups about MI5’s quiet little arrangement with BBC management to vet BBC World Service job applicants. Anyone the spooks didn’t like didn’t get a job, and a few who MI5 wanted, but never even applied , did.
    At the time at least some Beeb staff were committed to objective newsgathering and fighting censorship like that silly rule over having the speech of IRA members dubbed by actors , though even they wouldn’t have demanded equal airtime for terrorists.
    Sad, then, to see him now pushing for what is in effect tame employees and programming selected by the major churches.

  • StephenJP

    I agree with andym:we need the Beeb to take religion seriously,which means critically examining all manifestations of religion and their assertions about the real world, all of which are basically false. But I don’t think that’s what Bolton means:he wants the Beeb to be properly respectful to all religions, taking all their superstitions seriously, with no critical examination at all.
    What we will end up with, I fear, will be something along the lines of live sermons from mosques at Ramadan. In this day and age, there is a plethora of religious channels that can give the faithful what they want any time they want it. Why should our main national broadcasting channel be expected to cater to any, let alone all, of them?

  • Robster

    While the religiously afflicted insist on their “leaders” wearing those impressively silly hats how can they expect it to be taken seriously? Then there’s the dogma!

  • gedediah

    Yes, religion is too dangerous to not take seriously. Public broadcasting should keep us all up to date with developments.