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BBC bias: How faith gets extra airwaves

Does the BBC really stand for Believers Broadcasting Christianity? Garry Otton says it does as ‘Auntie’ gets ready for her 90th birthday
Former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey remains a regular commentator on the BBC.

After a court ruled that local councillors in Britain weren’t entitled to pray at taxpayers’ expense, our UK state broadcaster, the BBC interrupted the news on BBC Radio 4 to have turbaned Sikh, Lord Singh, accuse the National Secular Society (NSS), who brought the case against the councillors, of losing the spirit of ‘live and let live’.

Lord Singh is a familiar voice also on BBC Radio 2’s spot of religious proselytising, called Pause for Thought. ‘Auntie’, as the broadcaster is nicknamed, has her own publicly-funded Religion and Ethics department for these kinds of shows – although when they both crept under the same cover, I don’t know.

My formal complaint to the BBC of bias for doing this was met with a sanctimonious response, explaining: ‘Thought for the Day is the personal reflections of the presenter, and not a discussion programme, Lord Singh was perfectly entitled to give his view from a religious standpoint,’ adding: ‘The BBC is committed to impartiality.’ (Note the sentence about impartiality immediately following a defence of a programme exclusively set aside for religionists to blast the ruling of a High Court judge that found against them).

Since all previous complaints about the exclusivity and discriminatory practices of Thought for the Day from both individuals and the NSS have got nowhere, I satisfied myself I was in good company. It could be worse. When psychologist and writer Dorothy Rowe gave an interview on Radio 2, only a few soundbites were used from a 50-minute interview giving the impression that she thought religion both valuable and useful to people. In fact; she said the exact opposite!

That wasn’t the end of it. The next day, former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey was wheeled into the Today program to rant about Christianity being marginalized. (Er… Not with 26 seats reserved for unelected clerics in the House of Lords it’s not, mister!)

The man who oversaw the construction of BBC’s new production center at Glasgow’s Pacific Quay, with a special space for religionists to sit and broadcast to Scots, was BBC Director General Mark Thompson, a devout Catholic educated by Jesuits. He met senior Vatican figures in Rome to assure them of the BBC’s backing for ample coverage of the Pope Benedict’s last visit in 2010.

Attempts were even made for the Pope to interrupt the morning news for his own Thought for the Day. (It was reported that an otherwise media-hungry Ratzinger had ‘declined’ the invitation from Mark Damazer, the Catholic Head of BBC Radio 4). Never mind, by Christmas, the Pope took the microphone on Thought for the Day to express his opinion without any risk of being challenged. Last year, the man responsible for organising the Pope’s ‘State’ visit, former Conservative MP, Lord Patten, became Chairman of the BBC Trust, the governing body of the BBC. Mark Damazer got a CBE. Auntie was in ‘safe’ hands.

Under a wave of publicity, Lady Warsi was whisked off to the Vatican with six other government ministers to thank Pope Benedict – who stands accused of human rights abuses by such eminent lawyers as Geoffrey Robertson QC – and see how else he might meddle in our affairs after we had raided our overseas aid funds to pay for his ‘State visit’. Amongst the devoted throng was the Minister for International Development, Alan Duncan. (I presume the Holy Father knew he’s as bent as a four pound note?)

Warsi demanded we fight ‘intolerant secularism’ and ‘give faith a seat at the table’ in the UK, which, of course, got a rapturous reception at the Vatican. Warsi quoted from an old speech from Benedict about putting religion back on the political agenda, adding that the Pope had personally congratulated her after she said governments should ‘do God’. Soon after she was writing in The Telegraph, screaming that ‘a militant secularisation is taking hold of our societies’.

Then along came the next scam. The UK’s Catholic Cardinal O’Brien wrote in the Sunday Telegraph that same-sex marriages were ‘grotesque’ and a form of ‘madness’. This nasty invective wasn’t news to anyone in Scotland. We hear it every day from the bishops and their cronies. But the BBC treated it like breaking news, headlining the story with feigned surprise that he was the ‘latest’ of several senior clergy to kick up over same-sex marriage.

The BBC’s enthusiasm for all things Catholic appeared rather muffled when news began to break of children, many gay kids, possibly hundreds, had been physically castrated without their parents consent in Catholic institutions in Holland for telling on abusing priests, or simply for being gay. The allegations appeared to have been covered up at the very highest political levels of church and government.

Can I use this as an opportunity to explain something? Banning praying won’t affect the Coronation Oath and make it illegal. It won’t stop prayers at Westminster or Time for Reflection in Holyrood. It won’t ban councillors from attending Remembrance Day Services or – as claimed by one prominent evangelical – outlaw saying ‘grace’ before meals. It simply means that the council, which is not a church, can’t put prayers on any official agenda. In other words: Thy will be done before the shop’s open; not after.

And if we do start making it legal to treat people fairly and equally; no church will have to marry queers. And when you switch on, the £10million ($16million €12million) or so the BBC have to spend on religious propaganda, after they ‘found’ that in their ‘experience’ viewers aren’t interested in programmes that criticize religion, they’ll still be churning out even more of the stuff. And if they find themselves a bit short, they’ll do what they did to tell the story of Jesus’s last days in The Passion: Just raid £4million ($6million €5million) from the drama department’s budget to pay for it!

I think Auntie’s had enough knocking back the blood of Christ for now, don’t you?

The creeping politicisation of religion has done nothing to help our quest for equality. Rock the boat! The National Secular Society doesn’t have the massive funds and friends in high places to defend your rights against the swelling tide of religious privilege. Please. Put your hand in your pocket and send them a tenner: NSS, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL, UK. More details at secularism.org.uk.

Garry Otton is a columnist for ScotsGay, the author of Sexual Fascism, forthcoming book Badge of Shame and contributes to Secular Scotland on Facebook.

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