The Church of England is worried that religious broadcasting by the BBC will suffer, as the corporation is in danger of “losing sight of its essence – the DNA that makes it an enduring part of national culture”.
The C of E claims the BBC should make faith matters a central part of its “critical role as a guarantor of public space”.
But secular campaigners are furious, saying the BBC devotes far too much time to religion already.
“The proposals have been made by the Church’s senior spokesman on communications, the Bishop of Manchester, Nigel McCulloch, in a written response to a BBC Trust consultation on the future of the corporation,” reports the Guardian (the BBC Trust is the corporation’s governing and regulatory body).
“They come amid fears for the future of the BBC 6 Music and Asian Network radio stations as the BBC looks to make cutbacks. Plans to close the two stations have prompted calls for the corporation to find savings elsewhere, but the Church of England warns that religious broadcasting must not be trimmed.”
The C of E says: “We are concerned that religious broadcasting is one such area where output could not sustain further cuts without serious deterioration of the BBC’s proud record of providing engaging content.”
It is not the first time the Church has accused the BBC of not taking religion seriously, and Britain’s National Secular Society (NSS) said in February that such claims are self-seeking.
The NSS pointed out then that the amount of religious programming was “larger than that to which the Corporation had committed itself. Research also shows that that religious programmes on TV are the least watched and least valued.”
NSS president Terry Sanderson said: “It is clear from this research that religious programmes are not popular and not valued. It is important that the BBC is not bullied into becoming an evangelical tool for the Church of England while ignoring the clearly expressed wishes of the licence payer.”
Of the latest complaint, Sanderson says: “When [the broadcasting regulator] Ofcom asked viewers which type of programme was most important to them, only 5 percent said religion and only 9 percent thought there should be more religion on TV. The BBC should aim its diminishing resources where they will be most appreciated – and that isn’t at religion. There is already widespread resentment of the amount of religion on Radio 4 particularly – sometimes it is like tuning in to a broadcast version of the Church Times.”
“The proposals are likely to raise eyebrows at the BBC,” says the Guardian, “which has robustly defended its position on religious broadcasting and news coverage of faith issues. Earlier this year, head of religion and ethics Aaqil Ahmed said: ‘The Charter says that we should be doing 110 hours. We’re doing 164 this year.’
“The BBC has also broadcast over 500 hours of religious radio programming across its network.”
See also “Is religion being sidelined? asks BBC”