Sunday 31 May 2015

Keep swallowing that 'Tablet'

Damian Thompson of The Spectator and The Catholic Herald did a 'me' and speculated yesterday about what would be on this morning's Sunday on Radio 4:

No such hatchet job on Cardinal Pell took place; although he was mentioned.

Damian, however, shares my much-repeated belief that Sunday tends to sound like the audio equivalent of the liberal Catholic magazine The Tablet - of which the programme's main presenter Edward Stourton remains a trustee.

Years of unsympathetic, snarky comments about Pope Benedict have been followed by what feels like an ongoing deluge of sympathetic, appreciative comments about Pope Francis. And stories largely of concern to Catholics seem to be almost weekly occurrences on Sunday. Oh, and there's all the left-liberal stuff too. 

That said, am I am guilty of overstating the case against Sunday? 

Even since Is the BBC biased? (with subsequent help from Damian Thompson and others) exposed the programme's heavy use of guests from The Tablet back in 2012 (and the total exclusion of guests from the rival, more-conservative-inclined Catholic Herald), Sunday has brought in much fewer guests from The Tablet and some guests from The Catholic Herald (usually Madeleine Teehan) and other more traditionalist voices have subsequently appeared, giving the programme a somewhat better balance of voices.

Yes, there was that Tablet 175th anniversary edition a couple of weeks ago where the magazine got a lot of highly favourable coverage (aka 'a plug') and, yes, the programme does still focus unusually heavily on purely Catholic matters...

...but is it really fair to describe Sunday as 'The radio version of The Tablet'?

Surely that's just rhetoric of the kind we bloggers about BBC bias might occasionally over-indulge in?


Anyhow, the centrepiece of this morning's Sunday saw Edward Stourton talking about the Vatican's media operation (yes, I know!) and interviewing the man Pope Francis appointed to review it - namely, former BBC Trust head Chris Patten. 

It was a good-natured interview, with Lord Patten expanding on his points at length and receiving no challenging questions from Edward. (Please listen to it and you might almost hear Ed purring in the background).

Edward Stourton began by asking Lord Patten: 
Many might say you were brave to take this on. Certainly under the last pope [i.e. Benedict] scarcely a week seemed to go by without the Vatican apparently shooting itself in the foot in media relations!
He later asked: 
Were you impressed with Pope Francis?
Lord Patten replied: 
Oh, I mean, I'm a bit old to go into hero worship. I think he's probably the most remarkable person I've ever met. I mean, he's astonishing. He's like...sorry, to some people this may sound a bit soppy or sanctimonious, but it's like the Gospel of St. Matthew embodied in one person. He's just remarkable - witty, normal, not sort of behind great formality or ceremonial or ecclesiastical millinery. He's a wonderful human being.
Yes, I know that's exactly the sort of thing that leads me to regularly describe Sunday as 'The Tablet on air', but at least Lord Patten isn't a fellow trustee of Ed's at The Tablet.

"Its trustees include Lord Patten, Baroness Shirley Williams, Baroness Helena Kennedy and Edward Stourton"?


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