BBC BLOGS - The Editors
« Previous | Main | Next »

Reporting religion

Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 08:24 UK time, Friday, 16 February 2007

Catholics set to pass Anglicans as leading UK church - that was the lead story in the Times on Thursday - the story was based on a report from Cambridge University into the lives of Catholic immigrants, which also predicted that the number of regular Catholic churchgoers will soon overtake Anglicans on present trends. It was not a story - or rather a prediction - that got much coverage on the BBC. Why?

The World TonightIn our editorial meeting, one of the team had pitched it as a story, but in between the government's defeat over its consultation on nuclear power or Peter Hain's speech on inequality, the consensus was it didn't quite make it as a story for that day's programme.

Earlier in the day, I was doing a Q&A for a training workshop for journalists where we were discussing The World Tonight's editorial agenda and the question of whether the BBC's coverage of religion and religious issues is fair came up, following recent criticism of the BBC's journalism from some of the churches and other religious groups.

This got me thinking. Are we fair in the way we cover religions and religious issues? Now, I don't accept the idea put forward by prominent Christians that there is a secular ideology that prevents religions and religious viewpoints from getting a fair hearing. To me, the use of the term ideology presumes some kind of organised system of thought, while it seems to me that the real concern of organised religions is that in pluralistic societies their beliefs are afforded equivalence with any or all other beliefs while the nature of faith is such that it precludes a relativist approach.

But coming back to the editorial meeting, I wonder whether we decided the story about attendances at Catholic Church being set to overtake those of their Anglican equivalents didn't make it, not because we are followers of a secular ideology, but because many of us lack empathy with the religious worldview, and so we underestimate the importance of religious stories, unless they relate to other more political issues like equal rights for homosexuals or women - hence we cover the debate over the Catholic Church's request for their adoption agencies to opt out of anti-discrimination legislation or the potential schism in the Anglican church over attitudes to homosexuality.

If this is the case, then it is surprising given the increasingly important role of religion in world affairs over the past two decades or so.

Comments

Answer this, would you be wringing yoru hands over not covering the story if it was (for instance) about Greenpeace having more members than the RSPB?

The newsworthiness of the so-called Gay Adoption Row lay in the fact that unelected people who choose to follow a religious doctrine and who are receiving public subsidy (something few outlets really bothered to inform listeners/viewers of) wanted to exempt themselves from the law of the land.

Practicing religious belief (as opposed to lazily ticking CofE in the census form) is a minority activity these days and will remain so until the Churches realise that the world has moved on - the only reason Catholic worshipers may overtake Anglican is the number of people moving here from countries with high numbers of Catholics.

Hardly rocket science and hardly a great news event!

  • 2.
  • At 01:46 PM on 16 Feb 2007,
  • Alex Swanson wrote:

"many of us lack empathy with the religious worldview, and so we underestimate the importance of religious stories, unless they relate to other more political issues like equal rights for homosexuals or women"

Yes, got there at last!!

And it applies to other areas as well. I've been watching News 24 coverage of the latest gun crime stories, including police solemnly claiming that we need yet tougher gun laws and yet ahrsher punishments as deterrents. Nowhere has it been pointed out - certainly not to the police concerned - that this approach has been the basis of policy for decades, that the police have almost always been granted whatever legislation they claimed would solve the problem, and that the result has been spectacular failure, for reasons that some of us have been trying to point out for years. Why hasn't it been pointed out? Because BBC staff simply aren't culturally aligned to the ideas that "gun control" might be either ineffective or immoral.

  • 3.
  • At 12:39 PM on 19 Feb 2007,
  • James Petticrew wrote:

"many of us lack empathy with the religious worldview, and so we underestimate the importance of religious stories, unless they relate to other more political issues like equal rights for homosexuals or women" ... Goodness I never thought I would see it, honesty, more people attend church than watch football and yet we get a never ending diet of football and an admission that those making the decisions about news see no intrinsic new value in stories relating to religion. #
Can you imagine the out cry that would be going on if the quote above was reversed ... "many of us lack empathy with the secular worldview, and so we underestimate the importance of political issues like equal rights for homosexuals or women, unless they relate to other more important stories connected to faith "
After this admission how can the BBC argue it has no bias against Christianity????

  • 4.
  • At 11:05 AM on 20 Feb 2007,
  • Sue Walsh wrote:

Martin Hiscock writes "Practising religious belief is a minority activity these days and will remain so until the Churches realise the world has moved on"!!!
Yes the world has moved on. Look at it!!! Time it moved back again surely.

This post is closed to new comments.

BBC iD

Sign in

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.