Sunday 28 October 2012

More than a month of Sundays

You may recently have read in the Daily Telegraph or the Daily Mail (or, if you are a BBC employee, in the corporation's in-house magazine Ariel) that Radio 4 Feedback presenter Roger Bolton launched a strong attack on the BBC's coverage of religion while attending a BBC conference last month. He questioned whether it was "fit for purpose". 

One strand of his argument was that many of those responsible for the BBC's coverage form part of a "a liberal secular elite" and display a dangerous level of ignorance about religion. This is leading, he says, to over-simplification. 

He also argued that Christianity is being unfairly "singled out" when it comes to being mocked by the BBC:

"What I do now think is that Muslims in particular ought to be mature enough in this country to take that humour and that Christians do have a right on their side when they say the satire applied to them ought to be applied to others."

Mr. Bolton was also concerned about what he sees as the marginalisation of those who hold views than run counter to the BBC's prevailing "liberal secular humanist" outlook:

“There should at least be an effort to say that just because somebody is against gay marriage or against IVF doesn’t necessarily mean they are a lunatic – it is part of their belief, they have a genuine problem here with the legal authority or whatever – understand that position.”

He regards this effort as vital because "If you don't understand what is most important to people, as a society we are in trouble."

Roger Bolton

Instead, "the default position in broadcasting is always, it's a question of human rights and how can they do it." 

He summed his main point up like this: "All I'm saying is, if you have at the centre of News an editor, he could explain why people in particular areas…are motivated, why they behave as they do and I think that would just increase understanding."

Mr. Bolton made the additional statement that over recent years "something went wrong with the BBC's religious programming".

There's an extra significance to such criticisms in that Roger Bolton is a former presenter of BBC Radio 4's weekly religious affairs programme Sunday, only leaving the show in 2010.

As my first foray (on this new blog) into a major survey of a particular aspect of BBC reporting, I thought it might be interesting to test out these criticisms on the very programme Mr. Bolton used to present. What will follow from me (in the coming weeks) is a long, hopefully not overly exhausting series of posts outlining the results of my survey - one which has encompassed all the editions of Sunday presently available to listen again on the BBC i-Player - all the editions since 9th January 2011, finishing (for finishing's sake) on 14th October 2012.

Sunday has been a weekend mainstay of the BBC Radio 4 schedules for several decades, offering early risers a breakfast largely consisting of religious and ethical news stories. Passing through the hands of presenters like Chris Morgan, Roger Bolton and Jane Little, its chief presenter is now ex-Today man Edward Stourton. Jane still does a spot of hosting whilst Ed is away. Radio Ulster's William Crawley, ex-Channel 4 News presenter Samira Ahmed and, most recently, BBC religious affairs reporter Trevor Barnes also stand in for Mr. Stourton every so often.

Having carried out this survey before launching the blog, you won't be surprised to read that I know what some of its results will be already. (They are part of the justification for setting sail.) That will not always be the case. 

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