Saturday 3 November 2012

So much for multi-culturalism then!

A few years ago the Independent reported that Hindu and Sikh groups were concerned about pro-Muslim bias at the BBC:
Hindu and Sikh leaders have accused the BBC of pandering to Britain's Muslim community by making a disproportionate number of programmes on Islam at the expense of covering other Asian religions. 
A breakdown of programming from the BBC's Religion and Ethics department, seen by The Independent, reveals that since 2001, the BBC made 41 faith programmes on Islam, compared with just five on Hinduism and one on Sikhism.
Critics say the disproportionate amount of programming is part of an apparent bias within the BBC towards Islam since the attacks of 11 September 2001, which has placed an often uncomfortable media spotlight on Britain's Muslims.
Ashish Joshi, the chairman of the Network of Sikh Organisation's (NSO) media monitoring group, which obtained the numbers, said many Hindu and Sikh licence-fee payers felt cheated. "People in our communities are shocked," he said. "We are licence-fee payers and we want to know why this has happened. The bias towards Islam at the expense of Hindus and particularly Sikhs is overwhelming and appears to be a part of BBC policy."
It sounds like they have a case, doesn't it?  It probably won't surprise many of you though that the BBC was having none of it, rejecting the criticism out of hand:
In a letter sent in July to the NSO, the head of the BBC's Religion and Ethics, Michael Wakelin, denied that there was any bias. He said the demographic makeup of Britain meant that Britain's 1.6 million Muslims outnumber Hindus and Sikhs by two to one. "Therefore," he wrote, "if Muslims get 60 minutes a year, the Sikhs and Hindus should share 30 minutes each." Further content on Islam, he added, was "no doubt sparked by the interest in the faith following 9/11". 
A spokesman for the BBC said the broadcaster was committed to representing all of Britain's faiths and communities. "We reject any claims of bias," he said. "In our religion and ethics content alone, we have covered Hindu and Sikh issues this year on The Big Questions, Sunday Life and Extreme Pilgrim. In the autumn we will be covering Diwali from a Sikh perspective and we have a major new series for BBC Two in early 2009, including features on Hinduism and Sikhism."
OK, so who's right, the Sikh and Hindu leaders or the bigwigs and spokespersonages at the BBC? 

If there were ever a case for using Sunday, BBC Radio 4's flagship religious and ethical current affairs programme, as a test-case, this is surely it.

Have Hindus and Sikhs been under-represented, as they claim, or was Mr Wakelin, then head of the BBC's Religion and Ethics Department (since replaced by Aaqil Ahmed, a Muslim), actually correct in saying that they get proportionate coverage? We can certainly test his bold - and very specific - claim to impartiality, that "if Muslims get 60 minutes a year, the Sikhs and Hindus should share 30 minutes each." Is that what really happens?

How are we to count items featuring Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs on Sunday? Do we count all those many, many, many Sunday items on political events (revolutions, civil wars, elections, etc) in Muslim-majority countries, mostly reflecting some aspect or other of the so-called 'Arab Spring'? Clearly that should be a 'no', unless the feature in question is specifically focused on examining Islamic aspects to the story. Obviously, however, disentangling these two strands is far from easy in many stories from that part of the world, where religion and politics are often very closely entwined. Still, I will reject most of these items from the list, despite there being dozens of them. 

Getting an absolutely precise, unambiguous, incontrovertible total for all Islam-centred features is, therefore, going to be much harder than getting one for Hinduism and Sikhism. On top of which there's the question of whether we should include guests who are Muslim, Hindu or Sikh, even when they aren't talking about religion or religiously-derived ethical matters?  I'll say 'no' to that one too. (So that's a good number more chucked out!). Again, it's very difficult to mark hard-and-fast rules for what to count and what not to count, so I'll let you chuck out any of the remainder which you feel shouldn't be there and I'll place in brackets any others I doubt should be there. 

Still, absolutely precise figures may not even be necessary - as you'll see! Better, perhaps, just to let your eyes scroll their way down the following lists.

Right, here goes!

What follows is a list of all the items involving Hinduism on Sunday over the 21 months from 9 Jan 2011 to 14 Oct 2012:

10/7/2011 - Bharti Tailor, Hindu Forum of Britain, talks to Jane Little about their appeal for donors from the Hindu community.

12/8/2012 - Dylan Winter visits Bhaktivedanta Manor to join in the Hindu Janmashtami Festival and hear the concerns from devotees about the pollution of the sacred Yamuna river which flows past the Taj Mahal and other sacred sites.

[At a very considerable push, you might also add: 30/9/2012 - Where does Yoga come from and why is it considered not to be Christian? Edward Stourton meets Yoga teacher Jane Craggs. She denies Yoga is specifically Hindu.]

So, I make that a grand total of 2 items in 21 months for Hinduism.


What how follows is a list of all the items involving Sikhism on Sunday over the 21 months from 9 Jan 2011 to 14 Oct 2012:

12/2/2012 - This year Sikhs will be marking 150 years in the UK. Peter Bance joins Trevor Barnes at the the oldest established Sikh place of worship in Europe - the Central Gudwara in London.

So, I make that a grand total of 1 item in 21 months for Sikhism.


And what of Islam? What how follows is a list of all the items (completely excluding dozens of those I feel not to essentially involve religious issues or to be about general issues - including political ones -  in Muslim-majority countries) involving Islam on Sunday over the 21 months from 9 Jan 2011 to 14 Oct 2012 (Feel free to exclude any who don't feel are sufficiently Islam-centred to be included): 

23/1/2011 - Is Lady Warsi right about Islamophobia passing the 'dinner table test'? Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra and Professor Geoffrey Alderman discuss.

30/1/2011 - Trevor Barnes reports on Muslim-Jewish relations on the campuses of UK universities. 

[6/2/2011 - Debate on multi-culturalism, including Humza Yusaf.] 

20/2/2011 - Kevin Bocquet looks into the issue of Child Protection in Madrassahs.

3/4/2011 - Matt Wells reports on accusations of McCarthyism against Muslims in the USA. 

22/5/2011 - Edward Stourton investigates the Islamic Gulen movement in Turkey whose influence permeates right around the world.

29/5/2011 - Kevin Bocquet investigates why an initiative from the Mosque and Imams Advisory Board to promote the role of women within Mosques, seems to be running into opposition from some within the Muslim community.

5/6/2011 - A rash of newspaper headlines suggesting that a culture of marrying first cousins in Bradford is leading to major health problems. Trevor Barnes finds general agreement that it's been exaggerated. 

12/6/2011 - Haras Rafiq, Director of the Counter Extremism Consultancy Centri and Farooq Murad, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, discuss the government's revised 'Prevent' strategy.

31/7/2011 - Europe and Islam. How are Muslims in Norway reacting to the Breivik massacre and how can governments try to deal with both right-wing extremists and Islamist groups. Jane Little talks to Professor Julian Petley and Haras Rafiq.

14/8/2011 - The programme speaks to a Muslim community leader in Birmingham following the deaths of three young men killed as they tried to protect their community during the August riots.

21/8/2011 - Kevin Bocquet investigates how Type 2 Diabetes sufferers cope during Ramadan when they cannot eat or drink anything for 15 hours a day.

28/8/2011 - Edward talks to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the American Muslim Leader behind the planned Islamic community centre near Ground Zero in New York.

4/9/2011 - Is democracy compatible with Islam? Edward discusses with Professors Tariq Ramadan and John Milbank, but of whom think it is.

11/9/2011 - 9/11/ Anniversary edition. Several features, including a discussion on the impact on 9/11 on young Muslims with Zeba Iqbal and Humza Yousef, as well as a report on Islamophobia in the USA.

25/9/2011 - A leading Islamic scholar received a standing ovation yesterday from thousands of Muslims at Wembley Arena for his call for peace. Trevor Barnes reports from the rally. 

2/10/2011 - An audio talk by Fiyaz Mughal  direct of Faith Matters, who gives an Islamic perspective on the August riots. 

9/10/2011 - Edward explores Apostasy with Ibrahim Mogra from the Muslim Council of Britain and Professor Douglas Davis from Durham University.

6/11/2011 - A tribute to Dawud Burbank. one of the key figures of Islam's Salafi Movement here in Britain,  killed in a bus fire whilst on the Hajj Pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. Ed talks to his friend, Abu Khadeejah, from the Salafi Mosque in Small Heath, Birmingham. 

[27/11/2011 - Kevin Bocquet reports from Bradford and Keighley on child sexual exploitation there, which (the report concludes) shouldn't be discussed as a specifically Muslim problem.] 

1/1/2012 - A panel, including Inayat Bunglawala, discuss multi-culturalism and the Arab Spring with Samira Ahmed. 

8/1/2012 - How Mohammed Sbihi, a Muslim Olympic rower, was obliged to eat during last year's month-long Ramadan fast.

22/1/2012 - Ed Stourton goes to British Museum to see the next Hajj exhibition. 

29/1/2012 - Inayat Bunglawala discusses how Muslims are portrayed in the media with Edward and Trevor Kavanagh of The Sun newspaper.

19/2/2012 - Islamophobia. How serious a factor in the life of British Muslims is hate crime? The organisation Faith Matters is launching a project next week to help produce some hard evidence on the question.

26//2/2012 - Muslim-Christian interfaith dialogues between Pakistan and W. Yorkshire.

4/3/2012 - Ed talk to the director of a "controversial dance performance" which examines Islamic extremism. 

25/3/2012 - Muslim Anti-Semitism in France. A report. 

8/4/2012 - Feature about the New York cab drivers who sing Sufi poetry as they drive the city streets.

22/4/2012 (not on i-Player) - The role Islam is playing in the French election debate and the implications of the result for Muslims in France and further afield.

6/5/2012 - A new wine is on the market and its Halal - 0% alcohol. Samira talks to the maker asking why do we need Halal wine and what's the point of it?

6/5/2012 - Sheikh Amer Jamil is leading a campaign in Scotland to try and change the attitude and culture surrounding forced marriage. He says Islam helps here. 

13/5/2012 - "As a gang of Asian men are jailed this week for abusing vulnerable young white girls, we look at how the Muslim community in Rochdale is facing up to what was revealed." 

10/6/2012 - Tehmina Kazi of British Muslims for Secular Democracy and Dr Aisha Gill, Lecturer in Criminology, discuss forced marriage.

10/6/2012 - Istanbul's new deputy mufti wants the mosques there to be "more women-friendly".

[1/7/2012 - Muslim Brotherhood get their president. Oliver McTernan, Forward Thinking, has dealt with them & defends them.]

8/7/2012 - Where do British Muslims fit in the Army of 2020? 

22/7/2012 - An update on the organisation set up to support people who are attacked because they're Muslims. 

22/7/2012 - The British Library digitising 25,000 Mediaeval Arabic manuscripts which show what a deep impact early Islamic scholarship had on science, medicine and mathematics.

5/8/2012 - Islam and "honour killings".

12/8/2012 - Dorian Taylor in Turkey on resentment towards the rich from both socialists, pious Muslims and the islamist prime minister over shows of wealth over evening meals during Ramadan. 

26/8/2012 - Religion and the internet special. Separate feature devoted to Islam and the internet.

[9/9/2012 - The role of women in Christianity and Islam. Dr Tina Beattie of 'The Tablet' attacks the media for being "simplistic" in its reporting of how women are treated by Muslims.]

16/9/2012 - A Muslim leader in Egypt wants the U.N. to criminalise insults to Islam. Dr. Maha Azzam (Chatham House) and Mohammed Ansar discuss. 

23/9/2012 - Discrimination against the Muslim Rohingyas in Burma. 

23/9/2012 - Edward Stourton talks to Abdel Bari Atwan, Editor of the London based pan-Arab newspaper al-Quds, about how al-Qa'ida is profiting from the Arab Spring.

30/9/2012 - "Is the concept of free speech a universal value? Edward explores this with Iranian Journalist Hazir Teimourian and Jameel Yusha'u from the University of Northumberland."

7/10/2012 - The legacy for British Muslims of the deportation of Abu Hamza.

OK, even excluding all those dozens of reports and interviews on events in the Muslim-majority states of the Middle East  (many of which have included passing discussions of the role of Islam in the various political situations there), I make that a grand total of 44 item in 21 months for Islam.

2 items in 21 months for Hinduism.
1 item in 21 months for Sikhism. 
44 items in 21 months for Islam. 

Returning then to where we started, it is (you can surely do nothing other than agree now?) absolutely 100%, incontrovertibly, undeniably proven now (beyond doubt, is dotted and ts crossed, etc) that the Hindu and Sikh leaders have a point. At least as far as Sunday is concerned, the BBC is biased. 

They accused the BBC of "pandering to Britain's Muslim community". Now, some of the features listed above aren't exactly the sort of thing a religious community would want to hear being reported about themselves, but even many of those features were sympathetically handled by Sunday, and a good number of the others were openly helpful to British Muslim groups, while several clearly sought to present Islam in a highly positive light.

Sunday has, again beyond doubt, made "a disproportionate number" of reports, interviews and other features about Muslims "at the expense of covering other Asian religions". The neglect of Hinduism and Sikhism by the avowedly pro-multi-culturalist BBC, as exemplified by Sunday, is truly plain for all to see. The figures above echo the breakdown of programming seen by The Independent (41 faith programmes on Islam, compared to just five on Hinduism and one on Sikhism) - though, actually, they are even worse! "Critics say the disproportionate amount of programming is part of an apparent bias within the BBC towards Islam since the attacks of 11 September 2001, which has placed an often uncomfortable media spotlight on Britain's Muslims," says the Indie. The critics are clearly correct then. 

Mr Joshi of the Network of Sikh Organisation's media monitoring group, who says that "many Hindu and Sikh licence-fee payers felt cheated", might well be interested in these new figures. They give some credence to his sense that "the bias towards Islam at the expense of Hindus and particularly Sikhs is overwhelming and appears to be a part of BBC policy."

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