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Documentaries about Muslims and Islam scoop religious TV awards

10 June 2016

CHANNEL 4

Affecting: a still from My Son the Jihadi of Sally Evans, with a photograph of her son Thomas, who became an al-Shabaab terrorist

Affecting: a still from My Son the Jihadi of Sally Evans, with a photograph of her son Thomas, who became an al-Shabaab terrorist

THE top awards for religious broadcasting have been given to documentaries featuring Muslims and Islam, it was announced on Wednesday evening. The prize for the best television programme was awarded to an interview with a mother whose son left the UK for Somalia, to join al-Shabaab, which is affiliated to al-Qaeda.

The programme, My Son the Jihadi, scooped the top prize in the television category of the Sandford St Martin Awards for religious broadcasting, which were presented at Lambeth Palace. The runner-up in that category was an Irish-Egyptian broadcaster’s personal journey into his Islamic heritage, Baz the Lost Muslim.

The Interview of the Year award went to a podcast with Diane Foley, the mother of the US journalist James Foley who was murdered by Islamic State.

The chairman of the Sandford St Martin Trust, the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, said that there had been a “healthy mix” of entries, ranging from a Song of Praise broadcast from the Calais refugee camp to an interview with Stephen Fry in which the actor called God an “evil, capricious, monstrous maniac”.

“Both Stephen Fry’s interview and Songs of Praise in broadcasting from the Calais migrant camp made national headlines, and got people talking about the place of religion and faith in society,” he said.

The Children’s Award was given to a CBBC programme featuring a guided tour by a 16-year-old Syrian boy through one of the biggest refugee camps in the world, Za’atari in Jordan. Baroness Bakewell won the Trustees Award, in recognition of her long-standing commitment to exploring religion, ethics, and morality through journalism (News, 13 May). The BBC series Call the Midwife won the Radio Times Faith Award, which was voted for by readers of the magazine.

In a speech at the awards evening, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that the BBC should be legally required to put religious broadcasting on a par with drama, politics, and economics.

He said that the Corporation’s new charter should include a specific duty for it to “promote religious literacy”.

“BBC charter renewal, and questions about the ownership of Channel 4, have focused to some extent on the diversity of people who make up our islands and who constitute the audience of our great broadcasting institutions.

“But if diversity is to mean anything, it must mean more than differences in ethnicity or personal tastes. . . True diversity also means paying proper attention to religion,” he said.

A Sandford St Martin trustee, and presenter of Radio 4’s Feedback, Roger Bolton, said there was concern that, despite some current excellent programming, the Corporation did not have a “clear strategy” for supporting religious broadcasting in the future.

The Trust has been running its annual awards for the best broadcast programmes about religion, ethics, and spirituality since 1978. This year’s judges included the author Frank Cottrell Boyce, the broadcaster Sue MacGregor, and the Vicar from Gogglebox , the Revd Kate Bottley.

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