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Humanist joins BBC faith panel

23 April 2009

by Pat Ashworth

THE NEW body that is replacing the BBC’s Central Religious Advisory Committee (CRAC) is to include a Humanist, Andrew Copson. Mr Copson is director of education and public affairs at the British Humanist Association (BHA).

The Standing Conference on Reli­gion and Belief, which was meeting for the first time this week, has been set up by the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James — who chaired CRAC and will chair the new body — in association with the Churches’ Media Council and the BBC. It will be in liaison with the executive committee of the BBC, whose dir­ector general, Mark Thompson, was due to be at the inaugural meeting on Wednesday.

CRAC was concerned mainly with religious broadcasting, and was essentially a reviewing body that commented on programmes. It also advised the BBC and OFCOM on religion-related policies and cover­age. The new initiative is concerned with the wider output of the BBC as it relates to religion and belief.

Andrew Graystone, director of the Churches’ Media Council, described it on Tuesday as a “discussion forum on wider issues of common con­cern”. The conference will meet twice a year to explore a particular theme, such as comedy or science. It would not, Mr Graystone emphasised, be a representative committee with one person from each Church and faith tradition, as CRAC had been.

“The inclusion of a Humanist voice is not a big surprise or any big deal,” he said. “It’s a conversation in which the BBC is anxious to hear a wide range of voices, and I don’t think anybody needs to feel put out or threatened by that.”

Mr Copson welcomed the invita­tion. “In today’s large and complex society, public-service broadcasting is not only one of the main sources of information for large numbers of people, but one of the main ways in which citizens and communities can learn about and from each other, communicate with each other, and jointly address the challenges that face them,” he said.

“Religions and beliefs are part of the mix, and Humanists, as people with a positive and meaningful philo­sophy of life — and one that is shared by many people in modern Britain — have a lot to contribute.”

Mr Copson told The Independent on Sunday that his appointment could give him the opportunity to challenge the policy of Thought for the Day on Radio 4’s Today pro­gramme, which does not include Humanist contributions.

Jonathan Bartley, the co-director of the Christian think tank, Ekklesia, alleges that he was dropped from the slot when he advocated Humanists’ inclusion.

The author Philip Pullman, a prom­inent Humanist, expressed his delight at the development. “The wider the range of voices and opin­ions represented in the conference, the better it will be.

“At a time when ‘faith’ seems to have become an all-purpose adjective of vague commendation (faith com­munities, faith schools, faith groups, and so on), it’s important to help people understand that morality, ethics, concern for the poor, and so on, are not the sole property of those who believe in a God,” he said.

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