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Humanists disappointed by BBC review of religious output

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has greeted with extreme disappointment as ‘a fatal missed opportunity’ the publication today of the BBC’s Breadth of Opinion Impartiality Review. The Review sought to assess the range of voices and viewpoints in BBC output in relation to its news, current affairs and factual output, including whether ‘due weight’ is given to a range of perspectives or opinions, such as whether views held by a minority should given equal weight to the prevailing consensus. The BHA was approached to contribute to the review in relation to its religion and belief output and emphasised the BBC’s disproportionate focus and deferential attitude towards religions and religious institutions as well as the lack of programming covering non-religious philosophy and ethics. You can read the BHA’s submission here.

The BHA submission criticised the BBC for failing to provide programmes on non-religious beliefs such as humanist ones, which it is obliged to do under the Communications Act 2003. It pointed out the disparity between ever decreasing state of religious belief, practice and identity in the UK coupled with the undue weight given to religious opinions in news reporting. The 2011 census results and British Social Attitudes Survey demonstrated the move away from religion and yet the BBC continue to dedicate many hours per week to its largely Christian broadcasting output. The evidence also highlighted religious bias in the BBC’s current affairs output, in which religious claims and representatives were all too often portrayed uncritically, and events are frequently reported from an implicitly religious point of view (prominent examples of this include BBC coverage of the previous Pope’s state visit to the UK and his resignation, both of which were excessively deferential). The report in contrast found “no genuine argument that the presence of one type of programming is squeezing out the opportunity to hear an alternative point of view.”

Pavan Dhaliwal, BHA Head of Public Affairs, said ‘Given the massive demographic and cultural shifts occurring in UK society right now, this review is hugely disappointing. It totally fails to engage with the reality of society today – the society the BBC is set up to serve – and to anyone who cares about good quality broadcasting on beliefs and values it represents a fatal missed opportunity. The BBC simply cannot expect to continue to command public support if it continues as it is in relation to its religious output, neglecting the beliefs and values of the majority of licence payers. It’s difficult to think of a report that could have had weaker coverage of the relevant issues or worse recommendations than this.’

Notes

For further comment or information contact Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs, at pavan@humanism.org.uk or on 0773 843 5059.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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