Religion, life and rockin' the Beeb

By Simon Barrow
May 3, 2007

We got a gentle chiding from the Church of England media office over our comments about the accusations that religion is being excluded from BBC Radio 1 - made by the Anglican Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch, senior C of E spokesperson on communications and Bishop John Arnold, chair of the Strategic Communications Board, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. See:

The C of E says they are not asking for 'God slots', but for proper coverage of religion across the board, and they felt we didn't reflect that. The problem is, what does this mean in terms of a specific accusation against one station on one topic? We pointed out that spiritual values do come across on R1 in various ways.

So I wrote back: "If you are not asking for a discreet space on R1, what are you asking for? It's still primarily a music station. What do you want it to do? Play Christian music? Have Christian DJs? Invite religious spokespeople on?"

No response so far.

The fuss blew up, so I gather, because Radio 1 didn't cover Archbishop Rowan Williams' Easter sermon, unlike other networks They just didn't regard it as newsworthy enough - and they make the point that it did receive treatment across the BBC radio spectrum.

The fact is, what an archbishop says is not necessarily of note to a post-Christendom society just because he is an archbishop. Whereas in the past, in an era more deferential to religious institutions per se, it might have been. The onus of the churches is to respond to that change, to connect, to see what they are doing and saying in a framework other than "religious issues", and not to be seen to be complaining all the time that they "deserve coverage".

The Manchester Passion (which we cited, and which was covered widely on TV and Radio) worked because it demonstrated the spiritual power of music in a wider context, not because it was "religious". Likewise, the Greenbelt Festival is attractive to people like Anita Roddick and Billy Bragg, not because it is Christian (they aren't) but because it takes faith out of the sanctuary and shows it to be about shared human hope rather than faith that barricades itself against the world.

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