Archbishop tells the BBC: stop sidelining Christians

Mon, 30 Mar 2009

Senior church leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, have voiced their concerns at the BBC’s attitude to Christianity.

A decline in religious programming at the BBC, and changes to the leadership of its Religion and Ethics department, have led to fears that Christianity is being sidelined while minority faiths receive preferential treatment.

As a public-service broadcaster, the BBC has a duty to provide religious programmes, yet since 2001 religious programming on the BBC World Service has been reduced from one hour 45 minutes per week to just half an hour.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, is reported to have met with BBC Director General Mark Thompson to express his concern that the BBC is ignoring its Christian audience.

Mr Thompson provoked controversy last year when he suggested that BBC programming should treat Islam more sensitively than Christianity.

Christian leaders have also voiced alarm at the under-representation of Christians within the BBC.

The Corporation recently removed Michael Wakelin, a Methodist lay preacher, as head of religious programming. The front-runner to succeed him in the post is Aaqil Ahmed, a Muslim who has been accused of commissioning programmes biased towards Islam for Channel 4.

The BBC has also attracted criticism for appointing a Sikh as producer of the Songs of Praise programme.

Christina Rees of the Church of England’s Archbishops’ Council, said: “The vast majority of the population identifies itself as Christian and as the established Church in England we would be negligent not to take an active concern in the changes happening with the BBC’s religion and ethics department.”

The Churches’ Media Council, which represents various denominations, also spoke out about the BBC’s attitudes to Christians.

Its chair Revd Dr Joel Edwards said: “There’s no doubt that the BBC’s specific expertise in religion has been diminished over the past few years as the TV side of the department has shrunk.”

He urged the BBC to appoint staff and commission programmes to reflect the “vibrancy of Christianity” in the UK.

A BBC spokesman argued that “Changes to the religious and ethics department in Manchester are being made to strengthen the BBC’s offering, not diminish it.”

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