Tuesday 4 March 2014

More 'Tablets' to swallow

Returning briefly (well, at least by my recent standards) to an old complaint....

Thanks to this blog - and the Daily Telegraph, and various Catholic blogs who took up our findings - Radio 4's Sunday found itself in a wee bit of bother a year and a bit ago for featuring large numbers of contributors from the liberal Catholic magazine The Tablet but no contributors whatsoever from its more conservative rival The Catholic Herald - a massive discrepancy over a long time which looked even worse given that Sunday's main presenter, Edward Stourton, just happens to be a trustee of the The Tablet. 

[If you're knew to this story, think 'The Guardian' for 'The Tablet', and 'The Daily Telegraph' for 'The Catholic Herald'].

Thankfully, since that 'scandal', Sunday has behaved itself, drastically reducing its number of Tablet contributors, and seeking out different Catholic voices instead. 

I recall all this ancient history only because Radio 4's Beyond Belief discussed the first year of Pope Francis's pontificate yesterday and, being the BBC, instinctively sent out two of its invitations to a pair of Tablet trustees - Paul Vallely and Tina Beattie. 

Against these liberal voices was set parish priest Fr Marcus Holden.

A 2:1 bias in favour of liberal Catholicism is, I suppose, only to be expected from the BBC - in fact, even better than might be expected given that Sunday used to think it acceptable to have only Tablet panelists in its discussions of Catholic matters. So we should be thankful for small mercies then I supposed (though probably not that thankful for Tina Beattie, who was incredibly rude toward Fr Holden). 

Still, those small mercies granted, the programme did continue to vigorously reinforce the longstanding Sunday/Tablet line - essentially: Pope Francis good, Pope Benedict bad [in spite of Fr Holden's presence].

This bias was then further reinforced by having Fr Brian D'Arcy, no fan of Pope Benedict - and the programme's third liberal Catholic voice -, re-recount his experiences [something regular Sunday listeners will have heard on more than one occasion before] of being berated by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Benedict. He's still not happy about that.

This then, I would say, is another example of an ongoing bias at the BBC that seems hard to shake - unless you force them to confront it and change their ways.

Simply put, they prefer liberal Catholics  - which is why Thought for the Day's two main Catholic presenters are Tablet columnist Clifford Longley and Tablet editor Catherine Pepinster, both liberal voices, and why, when Dateline London wants a guest to talk about Catholic matters it instinctively turns to Tablet editor Catherine Pepinster, or when a new pope is elected the BBC News Channel opts for The Tablet's Rome correspondent Robert Mickens to serve as commentator. It's just what the BBC does naturally.

It's a bias that probably only really matters to Catholics - and bloggers about BBC bias - but it's a genuine bias nonetheless, and it shows the BBC to be what it truly is: an organisation riddled with all kinds of biases - some major, some minor.

Hence the need for blogs about BBC bias.

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