The BBC is failing in its duty as a public service broadcaster because it doesn’t take religion seriously, a prominent presenter with the corporation has said.
Roger Bolton, the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Feedback, has accused the BBC of “coming up short” in its coverage of religious affairs, and of failing to explain and analyse the role of religion in modern society adequately.
Decrying the corporation’s recent decision not to replace the outgoing Head of Religion and Ethics, Bolton wrote in the Radio Times: “Whereas BBC News has editors for almost everything under the sun, from business and economics to the arts and sport, it doesn’t have one for religion.
“How can young people and immigrants to this country understand the UK without learning of the crucial role Christianity has played in the formation of its political structures and culture?”
He added: “How can people feel they’re being welcomed as equal citizens if we don’t bother to find out about what is often the most important part of their life, their faith?
“This is not about promoting faith; it’s about promoting knowledge and understanding — surely a central role of a public service broadcaster? But the BBC is coming up short.”
Bolton pointed to a recent decision to force the BBC’s in-house team behind Songs of Praise to submit a competitive tender for a three-year contract to continue making the show.
“Why should viewers care?” he said. “Isn’t the important thing that the programme is being made, not who makes it?
“As a former independent producer I have a lot of sympathy with that view but, frankly, I’m more worried by the BBC’s whole approach to religion.”
Earlier this month it emerged that the BBC is pressing ahead to give more coverage to religions other than Christianity, in a bid to counter what it believes is a bias toward the Christian faith.
Lord Hall of Birkenhead, director-general of the corporation, has invited a range of religious leaders to take part in discussions on how to incorporate more faiths into the BBC schedule, and will also appoint a senior executive to the board of governors with a remit to draw up new programme ideas.
The Muslim Council of Britain has already suggested that the BBC could televise Friday prayers from a mosque, cover Eid, which marks the end of Ramadan, or show children attending Koranic lessons.
But Bolton dismissed concerns over any perceived Christian bias in the scheduling, saying that people should be more concerned about “something far more worrying when it comes to understanding and interpreting our modern world: a bias against taking religion seriously”.
A BBC spokesman said: “We take religion incredibly seriously, that’s why for the first time it will be represented at executive level at the BBC, and why we are asking religious leaders to help us shape and do more across all of our diverse content – including for Christianity.”