The BBC Trust’s review of impartiality in news and factual output, set out in its report ‘A BBC Trust Review of the Breadth of Opinion Reflected in the BBC’s Output’, admits that it lacks impartiality about Christianity but goes on to justify it with the excuse ‘its not a perfect world’ and concludes by inventing a special class of impartiality for BBC journalists covering Christianity, ‘Due Impartiality’. This appears to be BBC code for ‘not even trying to be impartial’.
‘BBC editorial staff at all levels struggle between the need to try to treat all religions and beliefs fairly and equally, while taking into account what may be the greater sensitivity of some believers versus others. Christians frequently complain that while broadcasters and journalists tip-toe around the sensitivities of Muslims, it seems perfectly all right to the BBC to run a programme in Holy Week entitled Are You Having a Laugh? Comedy and Christianity, and promote it in the press release by asking “Is Christianity a Joke?” Admittedly the programme was presented by the indubitably Christian Ann Widdecombe but would a programme entitled Is Islam a Joke? find its way onto the schedules? In a perfect world it would, of course, be desirable for everyone to respect the legitimate sensitivities of others, and for all the religious to feel that they are not challenged by an idiotic cartoon or empty-headed video. However, we do not live in a perfect world, and therefore have to do the best we can to exercise “due impartiality”.
This paragraph is in response to a critical observations of the BBC’s coverage of Christianity from Peter Hitchens and Roger Bolton:
‘“The BBC does implicitly take a side on whether Britain is a Christian country – that it is not a Christian country and should be multicultural. Both Christianity and Islam are statements of opinion with which anyone is entitled to disagree but on Radio 4’s ‘Sunday’ programme, Islam gets a free ride compared to the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, which are endlessly bombarded on that programme with stories about paedophilia, homosexuality and women priests.” (Peter Hitchens).
‘It is not only the minority religions in the UK who feel that sometimes the BBC treats them as if they are rarified and slightly deranged outsiders to mainstream thinking. It’s a theme reflected by Roger Bolton who claims that, for example, if a Christian is interviewed by the BBC about their objections to abortion on religious grounds, they are treated as though they are just a bit barmy.’ (Roger Bolton)
The point was made to us once again by Roger Bolton, who believes that BBC journalists tend to see the debates over gay marriage and women priests in the context of equal rights, while from the religious perspective they are matters of scripture and theology. Roger and others to whom I spoke felt that conservatives on these subjects tend to be treated by interviewers as throwbacks who are damaging the Church and dragging it back into the past, rather than people who simply have a different view about the tenets of their faith. (Roger Bolton).
The BBC Trust report goes on to frankly admit that the BBC’s editorial staff include a high proportion of ‘liberal progressives’ which it ludicrously characterises as ‘tolerant, or “live and let live” kind of people’:
‘It seems unlikely that anyone in the BBC needs to be persuaded of either the importance of impartiality or of the need to achieve it through including an appropriate breadth of opinion. Impartiality runs through the BBC veins like Blackpool through a stick of rock, and no-one doubts that impartiality is only achieved by listening and giving voice to “all sides of the story”. However, equally it seems undeniable that many friends and critics of the BBC take the view that its editorial team includes a higher proportion than does the general population of what might be described as “liberal progressives”; to express it in less technical terms, they are tolerant, or “live and let live” kind of people. Like almost all generalisations, this one is of course only part of the total picture…’
To be fair to the BBC, the Trust report does admit that BBC journalists and editorial staff are ignorant and uninformed about the Religions that they report and comment:
‘Though perhaps only tangentially related to our central theme of breadth of opinion, it would be remiss not to refer to the complaint made most frequently by representatives of all the religions. This is about what was widely regarded as a disappointingly low level of basic knowledge about their faiths among journalists who contact them from the BBC. The complaint rarely applied, it should be said, to members of the specialist teams who work on regular program-me strands in Religion and Ethics, but especially related to generalists working for news and current affairs programmes. I was given several surprising examples. There is no excuse for this; it seems reasonable that any journalist employed by the BBC should be expected to have a basic knowledge of the main and larger minority religions, their beliefs and hierarchies. If they do not, the BBC’s College of Journalism website (which is open and available to all) carries an excellent series of expositions by Mark Tully, Nicholas Witchell and Ed Stourton which are strongly to be recommended.’
That’s alright then, Catholics can look forward to the BBC’s coverage of us with ‘Due Impartiality’ and Ed Stourton’s Tablet version of ‘Catholicism for BBC Dummies’.
Protect the Pope comment: Well there you have it, the BBC have invented a special class of impartiality for its journalists covering Christianity, ‘Due Impartiality’, which in this imperfect world means not bothering to be impartial. This bare-faced admission is in line with the prejudice and discrimination exhibited by UK courts who uphold ‘Due Religious Freedom’ for Christians, meaning ‘increasingly restricted religious freedoms’ for Christian Bed and Breakfast owners, Registrars, Counsellors, and Teachers. Its also in line with the NHS’s version of ‘Due Freedom of Conscience’, which means no freedom of conscience for Midwives and Mental Health counsellors.