Tom Holland, the best selling author of In the Shadow of the...
The BBC has moved away from its Christian beginnings, says David Robertson
I love the BBC – its part of our history and part of my daily routine. Britain without the BBC would be like France without wine or the USA without burgers.
Did you know that when the BBC started in 1927 it did not broadcast on a Sunday before 12:30pm? This was not to enable people to have a long lie in, but to attend church. For the rest of Sunday the BBC would only broadcast religious services, classical music and other 'serious' items.
The BBC’s founder was Lord Reith, the son of a Scottish Presbyterian minister who was himself a convinced Christian. Both of the BBC's mottos came from the Bible - "nation shall speak peace unto nation" (Isaiah and Micah) and 'Whatsoever' which is a reference to Philippians 4:8 - "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."
The BBC was an organisation with a Christian ethos in a Christian country which itself had established Christian churches, and whose politicians in times of crisis felt free to call the whole nation to days of prayer!
Today we live in a different world. Reith’s purpose was to "inform, educate and entertain" from a Christian perspective. The secularization of society (often aided and abetted by the BBC) has been so fast and thorough that this Christian foundation now seems shocking to many people.
The BBC’s current perspective has shifted. It now has its own religious philosophy – secular humanism – which it advocates and evangelises with all the fervency of any religious fundamentalist.
If the Christmas fairy could grant wishes I would simply say 'all I want for Christmas is our BBC back'! I suspect that is as likely to happen this Christmas as I am to get six bottles of malt, a new MacBook and a Harley!
Are we set for more religion on the BBC?
A report entitled BBC Religion and Ethics Review was released today which looks at the pros and cons of BBC religion. It makes very interesting reading.
It recognised that people of all faiths were "often absent, poorly presented or satirised", and among several interesting suggestions have indicated that they will (in response to an Ofcom report which requested this) have more religious programmes on BBC One and BBC Two.
What does that mean? It probably means that we will have more programmes celebrating Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Jewish festivals. It is noticeable in the report how the portrayal of Islam is seen to be a major concern. It will also seek to include the views of those who “are not engaged with traditional religion but are spiritual”.
In modern multi-cultural Britain I don’t see a great deal wrong with that. It fits it with the BBC charter of 2017:
The Mission of the BBC is to act in the public interest, serving all audiences through the provision of impartial, high-quality and distinctive output and services which inform, educate and entertain.
(1) To provide impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them:
(2) To support learning for people of all ages:
(3) To show the most creative, highest quality and distinctive output and services:
(4) To reflect, represent and serve the diverse communities of all of the United Kingdom’s nations and regions and, in doing so, support the creative economy across the United Kingdom:
(5) To reflect the United Kingdom, its culture and values to the world.
Religion on the Beeb is like the Flu Jab
If I wished to be uncharitable to other faiths I would rejoice at the BBC giving them the same treatment that Christianity is usually afforded. From the Vicar of Dibley, to the saccharine, soporific ‘Songs of Praise’ (with apologies to all those who love either of these shows), the BBC reminds me of Religious Education at school. It was like the flu jab – it gave you a wee dose so that you wouldn’t get the real thing! Maybe the BBC version of Islam will neuter Islam as much as it has Christianity?! (Although this is unlikely because the BBC’s purpose seems to be to combat Islamaphobia and not mock or caricature it in the way they often do Christianity)
And therein lies the other problem. I am not going to argue for the BBC to be a Christian organisation in a Christian country – because it isn’t and we aren’t. But I am going to ask the BBC to do two things. Firstly it needs to recognise both its roots and the roots of our country in Christianity.
Evangelicals are regularly mocked, misrepresented and caricatured
Given that 50% of the population profess some kind of adherence to Christianity and only 4.5% to Islam and 1.3% to Hinduism, it would be absurd and wrong for the BBC to operate on the basis of 'equal time to all the religions'. If they are going to go that route then the Scientologists and the Jedi Knights could have a claim for equal time.
Secondly in its newfound recognition that it has poorly presented and satirised many religions, I would ask the BBC to take account of those of us who would describe ourselves as evangelical Christians.
There are over 2 million of us. But from the output on the BBC you wouldn’t think so. We are regularly mocked, misrepresented and caricatured. And we are rarely allowed to speak for ourselves!
Black gospel choirs are fine (as long as they don’t do too much Jesus stuff) but fire breathing Scottish Presbyterian ministers are not (despite the BBC’s founders roots!).
Can you feel my pain?! I was once told by a BBC producer that I could not appear on BBC Scotland’s’ Thought for the Day’ because I wanted to use the phrase 'Britain’s’ Christian Traditions' – apparently it was too offensive!
Another TV producer asked me to appear on a programme about alcohol and then when they discovered that while I was against drunkenness I like a good Malt, they said I couldn’t be on because 'I was too sensible'. They had an image of the Free Church that involved a minister dressed in black shouting that anyone who takes the demon drink will go to hell. So they found one to fit the caricature.
In the BBC charter we are told:
(2)…The BBC must ensure that its output and services overall provide a duly accurate and authentic portrayal and representation of the diverse communities of the whole of the United Kingdom.
My argument is simple. With honourable exceptions the BBC does not give an accurate and authentic portrayal of the evangelical church in the UK.
Let us speak for ourselves. And let us challenge your worldview
So here’s a suggestion. Please provide a more accurate portrayal of the diversity of Bible-believing Christians in the UK. Let us speak for ourselves – don’t have programmes about for example the Gaelic speaking Presbyterians in the Western Isles where you speak about them as though they were some kind of quirky throwback to the Middle Ages.
Don’t seek out the most extreme and unbalanced just because they fit your caricature and are good entertainment. Equally don’t look for the bland and boring who calmly accept your worldview and play your game. Feel free to expose the weaknesses and the hypocrisies – we know the Judge will do that anyway, but let us speak for ourselves. And let us challenge your worldview.
One small personal Christmas wish to the BBC Christmas Tree Fairy – can yours truly get a shot on Question time? It’s near the top of my bucket list..
Happy Christ’s Time….! ‘Whatsoever…”
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