Bishop challenges the BBC on its religious broadcasting

A Church of England bishop has called on the BBC to be more imaginative in its religious broadcasting.

The Bishop of Ripon, Helen-Ann Hartley, has called on the BBC to go beyond “preaching to the converted”, to producing documentaries and dramas that challenge and inform people’s world views.

Writing in the Easter edition of Radio Times, Bishop Hartley notes that the BBC is promising “more content than ever before” and that this includes the Archbishop of Canterbury sharing his Easter message from Canterbury Cathedral and the Pope delivering a blessing live from Rome.

But she continues, “This is great news for those who have been denied the chance to worship in-person during the pandemic. But it is also the BBC literally preaching to the converted.

“It’s all very well having more content than ever before, but if most of it fails to get beyond the ‘God slot’ normally reserved for ‘Songs of Praise’, what’s the point, beyond keeping the faithful happy?”

Bishop Hartley chairs the respected Sandford St Martin Trust, which “promotes thought-provoking, distinctive programming that deals with religion, ethics and spirituality.” By running annual awards, the Trust “promotes excellent broadcasting about all faiths, from major networks, independents and online sources, at local and national level.”

In the hard-hitting article, she asks, “Where are the documentaries that challenge us to rethink the world we live in? Or the dramas that ask us to re-imagine the human relationships? Instead of congratulating itself on producing more content than ever, I wonder if it’s time for the BBC to ask just what is the point of religion on the telly, or the radio for that matter?”

Bishop Hartley describes the BBC as focusing unduly on ritual “because that’s what the BBC thinks religious people do or are interested in.”

She says, “I’m far more motivated by programmes that explore the big questions in life. You can’t really understand the world and what motivates people if you’re not able to interpret or understand religion.”

Rev Peter Crumpler, a former Director of Communications for the Church of England, said: “Bishop Helen-Ann Hartley has issued a strong challenge to the BBC to up its game on what the Corporation describes as ‘religious broadcasting.’

“She does so from an influential position, as the Sandford St Martin Trust has long championed insightful, imaginative programmes that go beyond stereotypes and superficialities to depict the role played by faith in the lives of millions of people today.”

Bishop Hartley makes clear in the article “I don’t just want to watch a multi-platform worship service at Easter. I’d like to ask hard questions and explore what the answers might be.”

The Easter edition of Radio Times also launched the ‘Radio Times Readers Award’ for programmes ‘touching on faith, belief and ethics. The awards are organised with the Sandford St Martin Trust. Readers are asked to choose between six shortlisted programmes. Voting closes on May 16.

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