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Bishop applauds BBC’s new focus on religion

05 January 2018

BBC/Alexis Smith

The good life: the Revd Matthew Cashmore, an assistant curate in the West Hereford Team Ministry, features in a new six-part TV documentary series, A Vicar’s Life, which starts next Friday on BBC2. It will cover events in country parish life from Whitsun to Christmas, from raising funds for youth training programmes to clergy helping the lonely and elderly and preaching the Christian message.

The good life: the Revd Matthew Cashmore, an assistant curate in the West Hereford Team Ministry, features in a new six-part TV documentary seri...

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 that it was “the most promising review of religion and ethics at the BBC that I have seen for a generation. . . It is very promising all round.”

In December 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. Among those consulted for the review was the Sandford St Martin Trust, which awards excellence in religious broadcasting. The Trust’s new chairman, the Bishop of Repton, the Rt Revd Jan McFarlane, said the report “makes positive and encouraging reading”.

Bishop McFarlane said the Trust and the “media bishops” led by the Bishop of Norwich must “monitor progress, continue to ask hard questions — and nudge when it is felt that pledges are not being honoured. . . The proof, as they say, will be in the pudding.” But, she went on: “This renewed commitment by the BBC to religion, ethics, and belief in general can be nothing other than good news.”

In the foreword to the BBC’s Religion and Ethics review, the Corporation’s Director-General, 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’sThe One Show, or Chris Evans’s Radio 2 Breakfast Show.

The review points out that, although in the UK only about 50 per cent of the population are affiliated to a religion, the global figure is 84 per cent, which is predicted to rise to above 90 per cent in the next few decades.

There is also a commitment to making religion more explicable. The review states: “We want to do more to help people understand the role of Christianity in today’s world, and more to understand other faiths and beliefs as well.”

The Bishop of Norwich 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”.

Comment: The BBC has listened: now for action

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