Sunday 3 November 2013

Seek and ye shall find

Returning to this morning's Sunday (as I'm wont to do), we heard an interview with the charming Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. 

Ed Stourton had him on the phone from South Korea, and asked him if he's enjoying the job. He is. 

That, however, was pretty much the only question that went beyond the programme's usual frame of reference. The rest of Ed's questions concerned (a) splits within the Anglican communion, (b) more splits over women bishops and (c) yet more splits over same-sex marriage. There's usually "an Anglican row over something" story on Sunday, so this interview managed to pack three of them into one neat package. Well done, them!

Something Muslim-related and some breaking news from the Muslim World is another regular Sunday feature, this week combined with a feature on Muslim head-scarfs being worn in the Turkish parliament. (Bye, bye Ataturk). Fadi Hakura from Chatham House was on hand to say it wasn't a big deal, and that people are more concerned about environmental issues these days. 

There's always something Catholic-related on Ed Stourton's Sunday (usually negative), and this week was no exception. The Church is conducting a global survey on how Catholics feel about social issues, such as gay marriage, birth control, etc. and Ed interviewed Elizabeth Davies from the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales about it. Ed, full of the spirit of Vatican II, sounded happy that Pope Francis was consulting the laity but less happy at being told it was unlikely to lead to any major changes in the Church's essential teaching on such matters. (Ed is a liberal Catholic, after all). 

Ed's biases were also fairly apparent during the discussion of Sir James Munby, head of the Family Division of the High Court, and his declaration this week that the role of the judge is no longer to enforce morality. The interview between Peter Lynas of the Evangelical Alliance [rare visitors to the Sunday studio] and Frank Cranmer, research fellow at Cardiff Law School, saw Mr Lynas cast as the outsider, with both Ed Stourton and Frank Cranmer twice pouncing on him at the same time, and Ed questioning him more than Mr Cranmer. Mr Lynas was on to assert the continuing relevance of Judeo-Christian values in our country's law. Mr Cranmer was there to give other side of the argument. Ed was there to ask Mr Cranmer a half-hearted devil's advocate question and Mr Lynas two full-hearted devil's advocate questions. 

There was a feature to mark the impending 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht. Trevor Barnes interviewed surviving victims of Kristallnacht, plus Simon Schama [who was as good as ever]. This was a fine, sensitive feature. The BBC are excellent at commemorating the victims of Nazi anti-Semitism. They're much less good at examining present-day anti-Semitism. 

The worst part of the programme was a report about child poverty in the UK from Bob Walker. The Children's Society have released a report on children in poverty and launched a project involving young people to encourage them to examine children in poverty for themselves. Sunday gave it a big push. Ed's introduction said the issue of the extent of child poverty in the UK "is always a hotly-debated political subject", but 3.5 million children ["one in four children"] are said to be living in poverty in the UK.

That figure, of course, is where much of the heat arises, so you might have expected someone to be on hand to dispute that figure and that definition ["In the UK a child is considered to be living in poverty if household income is less than 60% of the national median"], but it didn't happen. We heard from a 'poor' family from the Midlands; from Matthew Reed, the head of the Children's Society; and from Yusef, a boy who's taking part in the new project - all advancing the same line - that it's "a scandal". "This is a highly charged political debate," said Bob, raising my hopes that a counter-balancing voice would at last be heard. It never came. That's not impartial reporting, in my book.

Now, that 3.5 million figure needed taking to task by someone - say Ruth Alexander of More or Less - but Ruth was on hand to fisk another figure instead. Sunday wanted someone to rubbish a statistic from a Christian organisation, The Center for the Study of Global Christianity, which claims that 100,000 Christian martyrs die every year, and Ruth duly rubbished it for them.

Why did they want to rubbish it? To scotch the "internet rumours of Muslims being behind the killing of a 100,000 Christian martyrs".

Thoughtful at Biased BBC, however, posted a link which defends the figure; and which rather undermined Ruth, who had made out that the figures for the Democratic Republic of Congo scuppered the stat's credibility and presented this as her 'discovery' - an 'aha!' moment of investigative journalism. That link, however, shows that the people behind the figure were open about their inclusion of the DRC 'martyrs', and had already laid out their own justification for including them. Have a listen to Sunday and then have a read of that report and see if you think Ruth is being fair to them - even if she's ultimately correct about the internet rumour being "untrue". 

"When looking for bias, one invariably finds it", as the BBC defenders at the Guardian says. I've looked for it and I've found it. Plenty of it.


  1. Dear Craig and Sue, I have been reading you weekly blog about Sunday for some time and yesterday I was up early enough to listen to it from the begining. Your thoughtful analysis has been spot-on. I have always liked Edward Stourton and felt sympathy for him when he was sacked from today for being too posh. I don't know who is pulling his strings for him, I guess the editor of Sunday, but I find it difficult to belive that such a one-sided point of view is put acroos every Sunday morning. Keep up the good work. Christopher Scopes

    1. Thank you. Your ongoing support is much appreciated.
      I've felt a bit guilty, to be honest, ever since we started 'Is' for honing in on Edward Stourton's programme because, like you, I rather like him - and, for that matter, William Crawley.
      If we can push the programme into a less one-sided stance, that would satisfy me.


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