BBC treating religion like a ‘rare species’ says CofE

The BBC risks treating people of faith like an “increasingly rare species” according to media reports on the Church of England’s response to a consultation by the BBC Trust.

The submission is in response to a consultation on BBC 1, BBC 2 and BBC 4 television and adds to the criticism that the BBC stereotypes Christians.

The BBC’s Big Questions programme, which airs on a Sunday morning, is criticised by the Church of England for its format which “makes it difficult to explore subjects in detail” and the fact that a “significant part of its potential audience is in church during the transmission time”.

The Church of England’s senior spokesman on communications, the Bishop of Manchester, prepared the report which also adds the Church would “wait to see” whether a new comedy about a vicar, Handle with Prayer, relied on “stereotypes”.

The Church criticises the BBC for not showing people “for whom faith is part of their daily lives” often enough in soap operas and other drama programmes.

The submission also said there was a “significant lapse” in the BBC’s 2009 Good Friday programming, which it called “at best, a deeply regrettable oversight”.

The Church pointed to the BBC’s own research which found most of its viewers were Christian and said the lack of appropriate programming on Good Friday deprived audiences of “opportunities to reflect on the festival”.

Media reports say the submission added: “There is also a danger of the ‘David Attenborough’ effect: religion always reported from the point of view of an observer of a fascinating and increasingly rare species, rather than explored as something of fundamental importance to the vast majority of the country.”

A BBC spokesman said: “No doubt there will be a range of submissions from different organisations and we look forward to hearing the Trust’s conclusions in due course.”

In May the BBC appointed a Muslim TV boss who has been criticised for having a pro-Islam bias as head of religious broadcasting.

Formerly an executive with Channel 4, Aaqil Ahmed has taken part in campaigns for greater Muslim presence in the media and he is a trustee of the Runnymede Trust, an organisation promoting multiculturalism.

Mr Ahmed’s Channel 4 series, Christianity: a History, which consisted of several programmes fronted by figures such as Cherie Blair and Michael Portillo, was dubbed “inaccurate and badly researched”.

In January the BBC presenter Jeremy Vine said he believes that Christ is who he says he is, but doesn’t think he could say so on his show.

The Radio 2 host, who also fronts TV shows Panorama and Points of View, says society is becoming increasingly intolerant of Christian views.

He told Reform Magazine that it has become “almost socially unacceptable to say you believe in God”.

Last year, the Director General of the BBC, Mark Thompson, said Islam should be treated more sensitively than Christianity because Muslims are less integrated and more of a minority group.

Mr Thompson was speaking at an event organised by the religious think-tank, Theos.

He was asked whether it was correct that the BBC “let vicar gags pass but not imam gags”.

He said: “My view is that there is a difference between the position of Christianity, which I believe should be central to the BBC’s religion coverage and widely respected and followed.

“What Christian identity feels like it is about to the broad population is a little bit different to people for whom their religion is also associated with an ethnic identity which has not been fully integrated.

“There’s no reason why any religion should be immune from discussion, but I don’t want to say that all religions are the same. To be a minority I think puts a slightly different outlook on it.”

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