Head of BBC Religion 'doesn't need to be a Christian' says Churches Media Council

By staff writers
April 28, 2009

The director of the Churches Media Council (CMC) has said that whether the new head of Religion and Ethics is ‘a Muslim or a Methodist, a Hindu or a Humanist’ is irrelevant - as long as they believe something with a passion.

His statement follows reports that the CMC was behind a story in the Sunday Telegraph which suggested that the Archbishop of Canterbury had ‘warned’ BBC director general Mark Thompson at a meeting at Lambeth Palace that the broadcaster should not ignore its Christian audience.

The CMC is made up of senior representatives of the major Christian denominations with observers from OFCOM and the BBC.

In an article for Ekklesia’s web site, the director of the CMC, Andrew Graystone, says that the view that the BBC's Head of Religion should necessarily be a Christian is both "unsupportable" and "dangerous".

“In a world where people lay down their lives (and take other people’s lives) for their faith we do not deserve and cannot afford another generation of religious programming that is bland and shallow” he writes.

Andrew Graystone says that the CMC had nothing to do with the story on the Sunday Telegraph, which also appeared in the Sunday Times and the Daily Mail.

Although he spoke to a journalist from The Sunday Telegraph, he did not talk about the Archbishop's lunch, and did not say that the Head of Religion should be a Christian.

“The Churches' Media Council works with senior people in the BBC - often to advise them on how a particular initiative or programme might be received by various groups, Christian and otherwise. We also provide factual briefings and advice for faith leaders. I think that might be why the story emerged that we had been 'lobbying' for a Christian to be appointed as Head of Religion. It's inaccurate and deeply unhelpful” he told Ekklesia.

“On the substantive issue, it is important that the BBC should build its authority in speaking about religion. It is true that they had lost several religion specialists from their departmental executive board over the past 12 months. There is a risk that they might lose their college of expertise and their connectedness with the audience. Moving the management of the department from Manchester to Birmingham (just as large chunks of the BBC's programme-making are moving in the opposite direction) isn't going to help. But the appointment of a new Head of Religion (of any faith or none) could well provide a new impetus for the department.

“The view that the BBC's Head of Religion should necessarily be a Christian is unsupportable. In fact I think it's dangerous. The BBC's new Head of Religion needs to be passionate and knowledgeable about the subject. Anyone who looks at religion and says ‘I just don't get it’ probably isn't best suited to head up that department - just as someone who doesn't understand why people like football probably shouldn't produce Match of the Day. But the moment you start saying that this or that job must necessarily go to a person of this or that faith - especially when that job is a journalistic one - you have lost the objectivity that is so vital to a free and independent broadcaster.”

Andrew Graystone joined the BBC's Religion and Ethics department in 1995 where he worked on a broad range of radio and TV programmes. He later became Development Executive in the Religion and Ethics department. In 2001 he left the BBC to pursue a freelance portfolio as a media analyst and communications consultant.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.