A Church of England and a Roman Catholic Bishop have called on the BBC to 'include religion' on Radio 1, saying that the current state of affairs is the 'most striking exclusion of religion from the BBC 's output'.
However, their suggestion has been challenged by the religious thinktank Ekklesia which has proposed that their call is based on a misunderstanding of both the spirituality of young people, and the Radio station's primarily musical output.
The bishops say that the BBC Trust, which now governs the BBC, sometimes includes religion under its duty to 'Reflect the nations, regions and communities of the UK’ and sometimes does not. They state: "Religion figures strongly in the output of Radio 2, 3, and 4 under the proposed licences for individual BBC services, but it does not appear under Radio 1."
The Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch, Senior Church of England spokesman on Communications and Bishop John Arnold, Chair of the Strategic Communications Board, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, have raised this in their response to the BBC Trust's consultation on its Service Licences and Purpose Remits which will help the Trust to govern BBC output.
The bishops argue that the exclusion of religion from Radio 1 is illogical and inconsistent. Radio 1's young target audience has a thirst for spiritual input that a recent survey for the charity Tearfund shows is greater than for older age-groups, they say.
In their submission, they observe: "Unless religion is appropriately included in the Radio 1 licence, audience needs may not be met."
But the religious thinktank Ekklesia has responded to the suggestion by saying that the Bishops should 'face the music'.
Ekklesia co-director Jonathan Bartley said: "The bishops are right to identify that young people have a thirst for spiritual input. But they are wrong in their assumptions about its form."
"This is another example of a narrow Christian preoccupation with defending 'God-slots' - as if the Almighty is confined to hymn singing, church buildings and religious texts. Radio 1 is primarily a music station. And for those with ears to hear, there is already substantial religious and spiritual content within many of the tracks that are played" said Ekklesia's co-director.
"Last year, the Manchester Passion, produced and broadcast by the BBC (in one of the Bishop's own diocese) illustrated the spiritual power and religious content in the lyrics of many Manchester bands. Religious and spiritual influences can be found in more contemporary musical genres too. Just because the religious content doesn't conform to the stereotypes of bishops doesn't mean that it isn't there" he said.
Ekklesia researcher Jordan Tchilingirian, who is also a club DJ said: "Young people, including many Christians, don't make the same sacred-secular divisions that many bishops do. Young people can find God in a night-club or at a gig as easily as they can in St Paul's Cathedral" he said.
Jordan Tchilingirian continued: "Young people are constantly talking about and discussing religious ideas and themes - even though they haven't listened to 'Thought for the Day' or attended a church service. Many of the songs in the playlists on Radio 1 will both reflect these conversations and be a stimulus to them."