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BBC urged to take religion more seriously - and interpret

Christians responding to the BBC’s review of religious programming have urged the corporation to take faith seriously, improve religious literacy among its journalists and provide more interpretation.

The BBC has pledged to "raise our game" on religion by increasing the portrayal of all faiths in mainstream shows. The corporation said it would "enhance" the representation of religion on TV and radio dramas and documentaries.

It said it would also create a new global religious affairs team, headed by a religion editor, in BBC News.

The BBC will also keep Thought For The Day on Radio 4's Today programme – despite presenter John Humphrys saying it's often "deeply, deeply boring".

Director general Tony Hall said audiences of all faiths and none have said they want to learn more about religion and ethics.

"They recognise that, if we truly want to make sense of the world, we need to understand the systems of belief that underpin it," he said. He added that he wants the corporation "to do more about Christianity and other beliefs as well".

The report pointed to programmes like Boy with the Topknot, Broken, Muslims Like Us and Radio 4's Living with the Gods as recent examples of how it had tried to address stories about a range of religions in engaging ways.

The Sandford St Martin Trust welcomed the review, but asks the corporation to prove its commitment to promoting religious literacy by appointing an overall Editor for Religion.
 
The Rt Rev Jan McFarlane, Bishop of Repton and Chair of the Trust said: “The Trust welcomes this review in that it emphasises the importance of religious literacy in understanding our world. We need to understand other faiths in order to live together peacefully and the media play a central role in this.  

“But, while we are encouraged by the report’s general direction and the seriousness with which the review has been undertaken, we need to see how the recommendations in the report will be translated into practice before we can judge its effectiveness.”
 
The Trust believes that the BBC’s existing coverage, though valued, needs to be protected and so advocates the introduction of a new public purpose for the BBC which would be “Promoting religious literacy: BBC audiences can rely on the BBC to reflect the many religious communities that exist in the UK with the aim of building a better understanding of the beliefs people hold both between those communities and by the UK audiences as a whole.”
 
The Rt Rev Nick Baines, Lord Bishop of Leeds and Patron of the Trust said: “The BBC has three Reithian ‘purposes’: inform, entertain, educate. I would like to propose a fourth: interpret. The world needs to be interpreted, not just reported. And to do this effectively, the lens of those being reported to needs to be looked through and understood.  

“This means that religion needs to be taken more seriously by the BBC in its future shape and remit. Religion is a prime motivator of individuals and communities, inspiring and informing their political, economic, ethical and social behaviour – probably also their emotional engagement with what is going on in the world and in them.”

Plans outlined in the BBC review include:

• More about non-Christian festivals like Diwali, Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Ramadan and Eid on mainstream programmes like The One Show, The Chris Evans Breakfast Show and Newsround
• Landmark programmes to "explore religion in all its forms", including a major TV series about the world's sacred sites, a Radio 4 series on morality in the 21st Century, and a Radio 2 initiative to encourage young people to discuss issues about peace
• 2019 will be "A Year of Beliefs", with programmes looking at how people make big decisions and where they get their moral values from
• More "people-led stories that have warmth and depth", such as observing vicars working in local communities
• Tie-ins with music and comedy, and more digital-first video and social media content
• The role of the religious affairs correspondent – currently Martin Bashir – will be upgraded to religion editor, leading BBC News's new global religious affairs team
• BBC News will also broaden the range of interviewees and contributors to represent a wider range of opinions and practices

Photo: Sean Bean in Broken. BBC/LA Productions

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