BBC religion is entering a new era, says Bishop

22 December 2017

Diocese of Norwich

Confident: the Bishop of Norwich, The Rt Revd Graham James

Confident: the Bishop of Norwich, The Rt Revd Graham James

THE BBC’s review of its religion and ethics output “feels like the beginning of a new era” the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, has said.

Bishop James, who is the C of E’s lead bishop on media issues, said on Wednesday that BBC had produced “the most promising review of religion and ethics at the BBC that I have seen for a generation... It is very promising all round.”

Earlier on Wednesday, the BBC published plans for reforming its religion and ethics output. These include the establishment of a religion editor for news, a global team of specialist reporters, a greater focus on religious festivals, and creating a “Year of Belief” in 2019.

Bishop James said he was hopeful that the proposals would be implemented, and that they would have an impact on religious programming.

“I’m confident that at the highest level [in the BBC] this is now being taking seriously, at a level I have not seen before.”

In the foreword to the BBC’s Religion and Ethics review, the director-general of the BBC, Tony Hall, wrote that the plans “will ensure that the BBC better reflects the UK, the world, and the role that religion plays in everyday life. They will also raise understanding of the impact religion has on decisions made at home and abroad.”

Under the new proposals, more religious voices, drawn from a wider range of ages and backgrounds, will be heard on existing BBC programmes, and new drama and documentary programmes will be sought. The religious themes and a wider range of religious festivals will be marked on flagship shows such as BBC1’s The One Show, or Chris Evans’s Radio 2 breakfast show.

Bishop James said that this “feels like the beginning of a new era, and so we have to be hopeful that these plans will be put into practice”.

What had made a difference, he thought, was that those conducting the review had done “enough research to give the BBC enough confidence that religion is not something that is fading away a great deal”.

He was “glad the consultations were as wide as they were”, after more than 150 faith groups and experts were consulted, including the Archbishop of Canterbury.

“It was not just one or two BBC suits sat in a room,” he said. The review was “one of the best things we will see”.

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