The Church of England has praised the religious programming offered by some of the BBC’s radio stations, while calling for a Religion Editor to work across the corporation’s news and current affairs output "to strengthen further its role in boosting religious literacy as a key tool for understanding today’s world."
In a response to a consultation being held by the BBC Trust as part of its review of Radio 3, Radio 4 and Radio 7, the Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch, Bishop of Manchester and the Church of England’s lead spokesman on communications, says that Radio 4 transmits more than the required number of hours of religious programming, and warmly welcomes the Corporation’s commitment to high quality radio that explores ethical and religious themes.
“The BBC stations under review broadcast an unparalleled range and depth of religious programming which deserves grateful acknowledgement by all those concerned with increasing mutual understanding between people of all faiths and none,” argues the submission.
Programmes such as Daily Service, Choral Evensong, Sunday, Moral Maze and Something Understood, and award-winning one-off documentaries like Twin Sisters, Two Faiths are all highlighted as helping present “an authentic portrayal of Christian worship [alongside] in-depth discussions and explorations of religious and ethical themes”.
To build on this through the breadth of the stations’ output and beyond, the response calls for the creation of the post of BBC Religion Editor to cover radio, TV and online news output, arguing that there is “no logical distinction between the genre of arts, science and business and that of religion, the landscape of which likewise demands a ‘trusted guide’ for both internal and external stakeholders”.
The response continues: “We urge the Trust and Executive to give serious consideration to this proposal; one that is intended as much for the benefit of people of no particular faith as for those of faith.”
The Church’s submission also suggests that the future for a rebranded BBC Radio 7 relies on a clear identity as an enhancement of Radio 4’s output: “We could envisage, and we would welcome, a station that included extended interviews with key public figures, and that had more freedom to experiment with the opportunities for interaction with audiences afforded by new media. Religious content would form a natural ingredient in a fresh station devoted to ‘going deeper’ into the nation’s psyche.”
The response reflects the tone of ‘critical friendship’ towards mainstream broadcasters set by the General Synod’s debate on the subject of religious broadcasting in February this year. Following its debate, the Synod resolved to “express its deep concern about the overall reduction in religious broadcasting across British television in recent years, and call upon mainstream broadcasters to nurture and develop the expertise to create and commission high quality religious content across the full range of their output, particularly material that imaginatively marks major festivals and portrays acts of worship”.
The Church of England’s full submission to the BBC Trust review of BBC Radio 3, 4 and 7 can be found here: http://www.cofe.anglican.org/info/papers/bbctrustradio.rtf