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BBC axes Heaven & Earth for new shows

25 April 2007

by Rachel Harden

BISHOPS and communications professionals expressed concern this week over the BBC’s handling of both religious programmes and religious input in its daily schedule. Last week, the BBC announced that its Sunday morning show on BBC1, Heaven & Earth, is to be axed in the autumn, and replaced with two multifaith programmes. And on Wednesday, two senior bishops called on the BBC to include religion on Radio 1. They described the omission as the “most striking exclusion of religion from the BBC’s output”, in a submission to the BBC Trust.

Two independent production companies have won contracts for the 10 a.m. slot on Sunday morning currently occupied by Heaven & Earth. Mentorn Oxford will produce Heart and Soul, which is described as “a new multifaith programme featuring a panel and a studio audience”, with a fast-paced theme coming from different locations.

Life from the Loft is to take the same slot next year, and will be made by the Leeds-based company, True North. It will be broadcast from Bradford, which the BBC described as “one of Britain’s most spiritually vibrant cities”. The show promises to “take the defining issues of our age, including faith, spirituality and morality, and make them appealing and accessible”.

David Self, a former media columnist of The Listener, and a Church Times contributor said: “Heaven & Earth has often seemed less than robust. As for its immediate replacement, the new show’s producer, Mentorn Oxford, has an excellent record in making topical discussion programmes — but no form in the field of religious broadcasting. The BBC has taken a major risk in not giving the new programme to its own in-house department, with its established expertise and contacts.”

On Wednesday, the Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch, who is the senior Church of England spokesman on communications, and the Rt Revd John Arnold, chairman of the Strategic Communications Board of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, accused the BBC Trust of having an inconsistent policy, in the lack of religious content on Radio 1.

The Bishops also said that the BBC’s service licences, as currently drafted, do not provide for any regulation of the amount of religious output in general programming such as dramas, soaps, and documentaries or news, which the Director-General has said he wants to encourage.

Bishop joins Lords’ panel
Bishop McCulloch is to sit on a new House of Lords Select Committee on communications, it was announced on Wednesday. “It is right that there is parliamentary scrutiny” of “the rapid changes taking place”, he said of the appointment.

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