The BBC’s duty to followers of all faiths and none
One is that religion underlies much of politics today, from Islamic State through cows in India and murdered secularists in Bangladesh to President Trump’s disastrous ban on aid for any organisation even mentioning abortion to women in distress.
Thank you for your editorial (Religious literacy helps us to understand our secular selves, 8 April). The secularisation narrative – that humanity is no longer ignorant, fearful and living in an enchanted world, but has now come of age, is rational, scientific and does not need religious faith – seems to have been swallowed whole by those, like the BBC and many political and cultural policymakers, who claim to reflect opinion while actually forming and propagating it. This secularisation story is simplistic, unfounded on the evidence of the vitality of contemporary world religious faith, and fails to take account of the way religious faith has itself evolved, frequently welcoming the insights of rationalism and science.
Your article warns against assuming that the values of the liberal, secularist west are self-evident. We do not need to look too far back in history to see how quickly a liberal consensus, assumed to be self-evident, can be subverted by a political rhetoric that appeals to human greed, fear or grievance. With nations today building walls and closing borders, pragmatism easily replaces the values of generosity and community if we lose the religious literacy that reminds us of the sources that nourish and sustain our values.
The Revd Canon Bruce Saunders
• Your editorial on religious broadcasting displays the Guardian’s traditionally uncritical approach to religion. There is a variety of reasons why the BBC should pay attention to religion. One is that religion underlies much of politics today, from Islamic State through cows in India and murdered secularists in Bangladesh to President Trump’s disastrous ban on aid for any organisation even mentioning abortion to women in distress, and his backing for an extreme religious line in recent UN conferences on women and on development, to the dismay of most European governments. When religion presents itself as “just apparent facts” it can be dangerous, and that calls not just for religious literacy, but analysis and critique of religious positions. This is entirely different from the BBC’s duty to reflect the nation to itself.
As long as there is an adequate audience for Songs of Praise or the radio morning service they should continue. But by the same argument the BBC should reflect the non-religious philosophy of the flourishing humanist movement in Britain today – yet you made no mention of its refusal to allow humanists to explain their approach to life or even to present Thought for the Day.
• Although I agree with the headline, I don’t think Simon Jenkins’ article (The best way to tackle BBC bias is to make it plain to see, 6 April) sheds much light on the debate. The idea that the BBC is “palpably left of centre” is belied by the almost zero coverage given to the anti-austerity position during the five years of the coalition government, for example. It may well be left-liberal socially, but it is far from the left economically.
And while the Reality Check page during the referendum debate was admirable in intention, there was still a failure within it and across BBC programming to provide citizens with a consistent and informative map of the different positions and the possible outcomes. What is more, the habitual adversarial exchanges that Jenkins extols rarely meet the standards of rigorous Socratic debate; frequently terms are not defined, ideologies are not named, arguments are not developed, conclusions are not crystallised. I suggest that the way forward for our public broadcaster, if it wants to be impartial, is to support good policymaking and informed voting through mapping all of the positions and arguments, clarifying how prevalent each one is, and illuminating the underlying assumptions, values and ideologies of each of its proponents.
• John Shield (Letters, 8 April) seems to think that impartiality and fairness mean sitting on the fence, which is rather in conflict with the BBC’s own mission statement to provide programmes and services that inform and educate.
We have been here before. For years in any global warming news item the BBC would give equal platform to climate change deniers, despite the overwhelming evidence and scientific opinion to the contrary. It has had a material impact on addressing the causes of climate change. Similarly, in the EU referendum the BBC chose to simply give equal platform to both sides as they presented their false claims to voters.
• I totally disagree with Simon Jenkins re bias at the BBC. Bias towards what? Towards being genuine and caring, for down-to-earth decency, for kindness, for being on the side of the decent middle-of-the-road viewer?
I have always felt comfortable and safe with the BBC’s journalism, interviewers and commentaries. In this era of uncertainty, even fear, and clashes of opinion which reflect something almost sinister in the background, it is reassuring to hear the voice of the BBC and feel a comfort. No strident fascism, no hard right either. The BBC just gets it right.
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