THE BBC's coverage of religion and belief is "wide-ranging and
substantial", but some religious people feel that they are treated
as "rarified and slightly deranged outsiders to mainstream
These are some of the findings of a new report, A BBC Trust
Review of the Breadth of Opinion Reflected in the BBC's
Output, based on an assessment carried out by Stuart Prebble,
a former chief executive of ITV.
Mr Prebble was commissioned to carry out the research last
summer, examining three areas in particular: religion and belief in
the UK, the UK's relationship with the EU, and immigration. A brand
consultant was commissioned to carry out audience research,
recruiting a range of religious (both "very" and "nominally"), and
non-religious people for group discussions and interviews. They
were asked for their opinions on specific coverage of topics
including gay marriage and women bishops.
The vast majority of this sample felt that the BBC delivered a
"reasonable breadth of opinion" and was "reasonably impartial" with
regard to religion. The BBC was, however, sometimes seen by the
very religious (mainly Muslims and Evangelical Christians) as
"secular in its content, rather than completely unbiased". This
group expressed concern about their depiction, calling on the BBC
not to "take the part of the secular by condemning, mocking or
failing to understand religious arguments".
The presenter of Feedback on Radio 4, Roger Bolton,
argued that "if a Christian is interviewed by the BBC about their
objections to abortion on religious grounds, they are treated as
though they are just a bit barmy".
Mr Bolton and others told Mr Prebble that people with
conservative views on gay marriage and women bishops "tend to be
treated by interviewers as throwbacks who are damaging the Church
and dragging it back into the past, rather than people who simply
have a different view about the tenets of their faith". Both
non-believers and believers felt that there was too little context
in coverage of the women-bishops debate for them to make sense of
The Evangelical Alliance, when invited to make a submission to
the review, asked members to share their views. The Revd Roger
Simpson, Archbishop's Evangelist and a Canon of York Minster,
wrote: "In programmes relating to science or ethics, the thoughtful
Evangelical approach is completely missing, and instead the
Christian viewpoint is expressed by a narrow, fundamentalist slant
which has more to do with the North American approach than that
here in the UK. As a result, thoughtful UK Evangelicals find that
their world view is unfairly represented."
Mr Prebble writes in the report that, in the light of the
"dramatic decline" in the number of professed Christians in the
country, the volume of programmes of worship "may seem difficult to
justify". But he also highlights "high levels of appreciation" by
those who do tune in, and the fact that the programmes are
appreciated by a "signficant number" of people who are not regular
viewers or listeners.
No denomination of the Christian faith complained that it was
under-represented in the distribution of worship services, and Mr
Prebble expressed surprise that no other religion wished to have
its own worship broadcast.
He also addressed a long-standing debate about whether
Thought for the Day should have a humanist or secular
News, 20 November 2009), concluding: "Personally I see no
difficulty . . . if justified on editorial grounds."
Concern that aspects of minority religions are reflected
"through the prism of Christianity" is discussed with reference to
last year's TV series about Westminster Abbey, which, Mr Prebble
suggests, presented those of other religions as "slightly exotic
and slightly mysterious creatures".
The complaint made most frequently by representatives of all
religions was about a "disappointingly low level of basic
knowledge" about their faiths among generalist journalists (as
distinct from those specialising in religion). "There is no excuse
for this," Mr Prebble writes. The BBC has decided to establish a
pan-BBC forum on religion and ethics to encourage collaboration in
The report is available in full here