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Cross words

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 13:16 UK time, Monday, 16 October 2006

Two weeks ago I asked contributors to this blog for your opinion on whether it is appropriate for news presenters to wear religious attire. The debate has narrowed to whether it is right for Fiona Bruce to wear a cross.

To recap and put the record straight, Fiona Bruce has not been banned from wearing a cross. The discussion about Fiona’s cross began at a governors' meeting discussing impartiality, around the hypothetical question of what we would do if a newsreader wanted to wear a headscarf or veil. The discussion broadened to include all forms of religious emblems.

I deliberately asked you, the audience, for your views. Some respondents thought any symbols had the potential to distract and could compromise impartiality. But the majority of people from all religious and non religious backgrounds believed if a presenter is wearing religious clothing as part of their identity then it is absolutely fine for them to continue to do so. I agree with this latter view, although on an individual basis we do need to consider whether symbols distract and get in the way of their primary job of communicating the news. The wearing of a full veil, for instance, would hinder communication with the audience; a large shiny cross would be too distracting.

Comments

  • 1.
  • At 02:26 PM on 16 Oct 2006,
  • fmk wrote:

a large shiny cross sounds more like fashion than faith. so are you suggesting that the real problem with fiona bruce's cross is not actually religious intolerance, but rather a call for presenters not to wear jewlery, cause it's distracting?

Peter

While we're on the subject of religious debate why has there not been a single word on BBC news today about the obvious contradiction in Ruth Kelly's calls for action against religious extremism and her decision to delay an equality bill because it offends her own religious views including the teachings of the extreme group she belongs to?

Moe info: http://www.mayorwatch.org.uk/news.php?slug=LibDems-Kelly%20Unsuitable-to-Defend-Gay-Rights&article_id=444

  • 3.
  • At 02:51 PM on 16 Oct 2006,
  • Ritter wrote:

Peter - it's interesting for BBC Editors and viewers to have this discussion. If I were you, I'd also be keeping an eye on this forthcoming employment tribunal:

School suspends woman over veil
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/bradford/6046992.stm

This case has enormous parallels with your examples of newsreaders and what they wear. The school in question does not feel it would be appropriate for a muslim female classroom support worker to wear a full veil for broadly the same reason you give above - they feel the veil is a barrier to effective communication.

If the tribunal rules that it is religious discrimination for an employer to have a policy that effectively 'bans' a muslim female to wear a veil, (and that the defence of 'communication' is not objectively justified) then you may be faced with a difficult choice in future.

If you had for example a muslim employee who applies for the job of newsreader, is the best candidate for the job so is appointed, and later decides to wear the full veil due to her religious beliefs - what do you do?

If the pending tribunal rules in favour of the suspended support worker, you may find your Human Resources department telling you that you have little choice but to allow her to continue in post - or risk a costly tribunal that you may likely lose.

The results of the employment tribunal will be a good guide for you (and all employers) in dealing with this matter in future.

  • 4.
  • At 03:37 PM on 16 Oct 2006,
  • Ed wrote:

Well surely presenters shouldn't wear anything particularly distracting. I assume the BBC has a dress code that covers this already.

  • 5.
  • At 04:49 PM on 16 Oct 2006,
  • Eric wrote:

A company dress code. Could it be that simple?
In the early 70s, I remember being interviewed outside a department store as to whether sales ladies should be allowed to wear slacks on the job. The store was against it.
My friend thought the store had the right to make such rules. I felt the employees should have the choice.
Today, dress code requirements can be much more serious matters, possibly resulting in desperately more dangerous consequences.
I can't help now thinking that, all the way back there, my friend was right. We should have kept the dress code rules in the hands of the companies.

  • 6.
  • At 05:03 PM on 16 Oct 2006,
  • ken wrote:

I remember watching a pop-psychology documentary, on the beeb of course, about the difference between men and women - the men weren't really interested in the jewellry, or the news if I remember (and they didn't remember much of what was being said at all). The debate is good, shining a revealing light on these belief systems.

Peter

I still need to know - would you allow a presenter to wear a CND badge, a Make Poverty History arm band or a UKIP tie pin? If the answer is no, then surely this is a contradiction - you are saying that it is acceptable for one set of beliefs (those based upon superstition) to be displayed, but another set (which may be equally strongly held) are not acceptable. It’s not as if anyone can argue religion is a less powerful or less politically involved force than something like Make Poverty History!

Peter,
I agree with the majority and yourself, for the record, and with a commonsense approach, but as Ben Franklin (or was it Mark Twain?) observed, "The trouble with common sense is that it ain't all that common."

  • 9.
  • At 07:15 PM on 16 Oct 2006,
  • Bryan wrote:

It is rubbish to say that presenters should not wear anything that is distracting.........one way or another they all do, and they now strut and pose into the bargain. I find it most annoying when all I want is the news,basically unadulterated. Then there is the built in bias to consider; these are all distractions. However I get sick and tired of the way this country has lost completely its way because of giving in to minority groups whilst ignoring the broad swathes of ordinary people from whatever nationality. The veil has NO part in our society, and even less in public life. Instead however of blaming the people taking advantage of relaxations of our way of life, put the blame fairly and squarely on the absolute rotten government of the day which is hell bent on destroying everything that was once worthwhile. BW tamworth

I think it's a shame that when something gets picked up by the media, that it has to be taken to the nth degree. I for one hadn't even noticed the cross that she wears.
Now if she were wearing a veil over her face, then it might seriously impede her news reading ability.

  • 11.
  • At 02:13 AM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • James wrote:

It's depressingly enlightning how effectivly the mass-media manipulate and blow out of proportion these kinda things to create a sensationalist story.

The coverage from other media outlets has been a complete contrast to your original blog, it's as if they blatantly ignored the facts - out right lied.

Can we trust anyone?

  • 12.
  • At 08:09 AM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • gerard downing wrote:

Nothing to do with religious symbols but surely the adoption by Madonna of a foreign child is NOT headline news. (On the above I'd happily see us going down a completely secular route. No faith schools or icons).
Our soldiers are fighting a filthy war in desperate conditions; surely there are more reportable issues to be found.
Granted it is reported but these are the sons and daughters of our citizens.
Yours
Gerard Downing

  • 13.
  • At 10:09 AM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

BBC seems obsessed with problems concerning symbols rather than substance where the real problems lie. But this is easily remedied with technology. Instead of a live news presenter, BBC should create a computer generated talking head whose image and voice is neither identifiably male nor female, whose race, religion, and natonal identity are also unidentifiable, whose accent is as neutral as possible, the product of a "melting pot" society where all individuality which distinguishes one human being from another has been boiled away. This will be the perfect model for a future United States of Europe to follow, as bland as cold mashed potatoes. Nobody will be offended by it...nobody will stay awake through it either.

  • 14.
  • At 10:53 AM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Olly Benson wrote:

I think Tom Page makes the most valued point above. Quite frankly I don't care what religion people follow as long as they deliver the news with reasonable impartiality.

What is more interesting is what other symbols they should be allowed to wear? In a couple of weeks time all presenters will suddenly start wearing a red poppy. I wonder what would happen if one decided they'd prefer to wear a white one (the symbol of peace?).

At the end of next month many people like to wear the red ribbon for World Aids Day. Would that be acceptable?

There was a huge discussion about the BBC's coverage of Live 8 and how they had to remain impartiality. So that assumes that a white Make Poverty History wristband is out; but would the blue anti-bullying wristbands that were promoted by Radio 1 be ruled out as well? Did the Newsbeat reporters all abide by that?

Personally I'd much prefer our journalists to be active members of the community; passionate about particular issues whilst understanding they have a duty of remaining impartial during their working hours. So forgetting to take off their MPH wristband wouldn't bother me.
Creating the notion that somehow journalists/newsreaders should be a 2D mouth-on-a-stick will make the role unattractive for the very people I want to explain the world I live in; and attract the very people (who's sole motivation is to appear on TV) I don't.

  • 15.
  • At 01:04 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Jackie Toombs wrote:

If the presenters can't wear simple jewellry then perhaps they should also be banned from wearing poppies for rememberance, charity ribbons, charity bracelets, daffodils on St David's day, roses on St george's day, etc, etc. In fact let's ban them from doing anything that might show they are a person and pretend they are simply autamatons presenting the news.

  • 16.
  • At 02:56 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Rainbow wrote:

I think moderation is the answer. As a non-Christian, I have no problem with the cross, etc. However, I do agree that a huge cross like the one worn by the Greek Orthodox patriach on a newscaster is unprofessional just as the veil is on a teacher or any professional. I honestly don't understand why the teacher's assistant veils herself because there's nothing in Islam that calls for it.

  • 17.
  • At 06:47 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • brian wadkins wrote:

I don't believe what I am reading. The BBC wouldn't know impartiality if it jumped up and slapped its face. I have watched the BBC descend into a marass or bias and inaccuracy over the last 35 years and here you are defending impartiality. Grow up and let's have some honesty.

  • 18.
  • At 11:58 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • robin cameron wrote:

strange that religion didn't decree that all MEN should be covered 'modestly' except their eyes. mmm ... can't see it.

if religion depends on such wonderful gods, why were they so vague. much simpler to have said 'let all women be covered except their eyes'. end of debate. couldn't they see it coming ...

as for respecting other's views (hitler, mussolini, blair, the pope ... ?) - as an atheist, why should i respect something i profoundly disagree with and see as the major cause of disharmony, violence, and repression.

religion is an insult to our intellect and dignity.

without it, there'd be good people doing good things, and bad people doing bad things.

but, for good people to do bad things, they need religion.

  • 19.
  • At 03:45 AM on 18 Oct 2006,
  • Mike Z wrote:

I think the veil is no more an impediment to spoken communication than Stephen Hawking's computer-generated voice. Neither hinders comprehension of the spoken word, but both are distracting mainly because they are by and large unfamiliar to western audiences.

As far as I'm concerned, if one of your presenters feels the need to wear a cross, magen david, veil, sari, turban, or a polka-dot bow tie, what's the big deal? If you want all your presenters to appear the same, the you might as well skip televising them altogether and stick to radio.

  • 20.
  • At 02:00 PM on 18 Oct 2006,
  • Paul Goodliffe wrote:

I hate debates , until now I would never have noticed what people wore when they read the news now thanks to this "debate" I look at them and not listen to whats being said

  • 21.
  • At 03:18 PM on 18 Oct 2006,
  • uzair wrote:

When the western media has no conscience over nudity, why does it shriek over concealing ones' ownself ??

  • 22.
  • At 03:30 PM on 18 Oct 2006,
  • Nicola wrote:

Never mind the religious symbols, can you stop Breakfast news presenters wearing cerise jackets? It clashes horribly with the red sofas.

  • 23.
  • At 05:04 PM on 18 Oct 2006,
  • anonymous wrote:

I think that they should be allowed to wear it if they have to, but the BBC should make clear what they can/can't wear- a dress code. Muslim women should be able to wear a veil as long as it didnt cover their face, as a non-Muslim might wear a scarf. What does it matter as long as it doesn't interfere with the news??? If it does, ditch it, if it doesn't, keep it! Why all the major fuss?

  • 24.
  • At 05:40 PM on 18 Oct 2006,
  • Eric wrote:

The way I see it, the Muslim edict to cover up their women
strongly suggests that the men are judged to be simply incapable of controlling themselves should they see a woman's hair or her leg or, perish the thought, the outlines of her body! It's time the women said: Hey, guys, get a grip!

It just reminds me of Cole Porter's lyrics:

"In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking,
But now, God knows,
Anything Goes...." — which, of course, leads us to:

"The world has gone mad today
And good's bad today,
And black's white today,
And day's night today."

Sheesh! Such worrywarts, those people!

  • 25.
  • At 11:54 AM on 22 Oct 2006,
  • Valko wrote:

I do not think this issue is simple matter of choice of freedom; there are moral issues here in the sense what our society values are?

Do we have any moral values? And if we have ones do we want to promote them pro-actively?

If you ask yourself those questions then try to solve every single case from that point of view just using your common sense.

In the case of the teacher it will be not a matter does she can do the job or not, ask yourself how many parents will want including Muslim ones really want their children to have a veiled teacher in the sense that although personal choice this veil promotes certain values and behaviour.

I can make the opposite analogy - how many parents will agree teacher to be topless - could you be able to do your job topless, of course you do. What common sense tells you about this?

Simplifying that is the main problem here. There are no universal answers for moral questions - you should look at every case and to decide, and in the case of questions about whole society the answers will be what we want as a society at whole, therefore your personal freedoms will be restricted accordingly what society wants.

  • 26.
  • At 01:01 PM on 24 Oct 2006,
  • Sue wrote:

With regards to newsreaders wearing a veil (women or men, religion or fashion statement) - has anyone considered the effect this might have on deaf viewers who rely on being able to lipread? I thought the point of broadcast news was to communicate with all viewers.

  • 27.
  • At 11:47 AM on 25 Oct 2006,
  • Ian wrote:

I have a question what constitutes religious clothing?
This touches on Valko's point about topless newsreaders.

It my be apocryphal but even if it is it makes my point.
I believe that if 10000 people register their religous believes at a census they become an official recognised religion in the UK, hence apparently the Jedi are an officially recognised religion in this country. If it is then surely objecting to Star War movies could leave you open to cahrges of inciting relgious hatred. And newsreaders should feel free to read the news dressed up as Obay wan Kanobi.
And if say 100000 people registered as nudists then Valko or anyone who else objected to their representatives appearing nude everywhere would be similarly open to the charges of inciting religous hatred.

Hopefully despite my cack handed attempt my pointis clear
That however strongly they are held , by how many or for how long they have been held across history one person's relgious beleives are no better or worse than anothers.
So accomodate one and you have to accomodate them all however odious, absurd, insane or horrifying other individuals or organisations find them.

Otherwise on what basis do we decide to make or not make the accomodation

Secular morality perhaps? (bit of irony no if it has to be this?)
What all religions can agreed on? Well as this whole veil in a tea cup thing shows that ain't very much.

The answer surely is to say that the state its institutions and public service organisations have to entirely secular and are not duty bound to accomodate believes of any kind.

  • 28.
  • At 11:50 AM on 26 Oct 2006,
  • joeking wrote:

I am obsessed with Fiona Bruce.
Please help!

  • 29.
  • At 05:42 PM on 27 Oct 2006,
  • Adam wrote:

I think the issue of women wearing a veil is demeaning... TO MEN.

The point of the veil is to "protect" women from "inflaming the unbridled passions" of the men they meet.

I think it's outrageous for someone to assume that I can't control my libido.

I can. I do. I'm married. I've never had an affair. And the sight of a woman, even one in a sexy attire, does not cause me to cast aside my clothes and leap upon her.

  • 30.
  • At 02:54 PM on 02 Nov 2006,
  • graham grundon wrote:

I have noticed this week that all the women newsreaders on BBC 1 are wearing black dresses, suits etc....why?

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