Television: Seasonal ignorance

16 April 2009

by Gillean Craig

THE YEAR 2009 should be remembered by the Church as the year in which British television finally displayed its utter contempt for Christianity. Gradually, network after network has cut back on anything that might be considered religious. Occasionally there are documentaries on religious themes — which is not the same thing at all.

We became resigned to the commercial channels’ taking this course, but held higher expectations of the BBC. But, this year, even the BBC chose to ignore Holy Week completely.

The Christians’ central narrative of salvation, which still inspires artists and anyone of any imagination, and whose succession of rituals and liturgies attracted (as I understand) more people than all the professional football matches added together, was deemed too boring to merit a single programme.

Last year, we hailed the Passion dramas (repeated last week on BBC4) as a breakthrough — a sign that the secularist tide had turned. This year, we learned BBC TV’s real response to our faith: silence.

Yes, a service was broadcast on Easter morning, and, no doubt, Songs of Praise took note of the relevant theme; but the only broadcast on Good Friday that could be considered even vaguely relevant to the day was a documentary, Hallelujah!, about Handel’s Messiah, thus using the one word no Catholic Christian would utter on that day — evidence of a mindset best described by the technical term “pig ignorance”.

BBC1 decided that the best way to mark the death of our Saviour was by showing a Wallace and Gromit film.

I had considered marking my contempt for this abject failure by filing a completely blank column, mute witness to my rage and despair — but changed my mind because (a) I don’t suppose the BBC would take much notice, and (b) the Editor pays me by the word.


The most serious encounter with religion that I came across all Holy Week was, bizarrely, a film about the first attempt to broadcast a Pop Idol competition in Afghanistan. The religion was, of course, Islam.

Afghan Star (More4, Tuesday of last week) was terrific. In a culture where, from 1996 to 2004, performing music or watching television were banned, for more than 2000 hopefuls singing on national TV it became a glorious symbol of freedom. And three of them were women.

Their involvement became the central theme. Two of them reached the final rounds — there was no doubting their popular support, for all the voting was done by mobile phone. When the more liberated of the pair was voted off, she accompanied her last song with a little dance, and allowed the veil covering her hair to slip.

This was too much even for the other contestants. She had done a bad thing, they agreed. The national Islamic Council issued stern fulminations against the programme, but bravely it carried on. Fear of the Taliban and their influence hung like a miasma over everything: if they regain power, then all such levity will be ruthlessly suppressed. The two women are now in hiding, in fear of their lives.

This was a timely demonstration of religion as oppression, just when we should have been celebrating faith’s power to liberate.

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