Jul 3, 2011
neil

Dear Mr Ahmed why does the BBC protect Islam but attack Christianity?

When the BBC decided it was time to broadcast another attack at the foundations of Christianity in the form of Bible’s buried secrets I wrote a letter to Mr Aaqil Ahmed the Commissioning Editor Religion and Head of Religion & Ethics at the BBC. My concern was not that Christianity should enjoy a protected or privileged status beyond contradiction but rather that Christianity should not be singled out for such critique when other religions, at their foundation, are free from critique. I received a reply from someone at BBC Audience Services which was far from satisfactory. Here is my second letter to Mr. Ahmed.

 

Dear Mr Ahmed

I am sorry that you were not able to reply personally to my letter sent regarding the concerns of many over the BBC’s ‘Bible’s Buried secrets’ broadcast on BBC2 earlier this year.  Having now received a reply from a Mr Roberts of the BBC Audience Services it is important that I write again in light of the errors contained within his letter.

The programme ‘Bible’s Buried secrets’ was a deliberate attempt to challenge the credibility of the Christian holy book and sacred text. As the review in the Daily Telegraph highlighted;

The programme’s findings, said Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou, would “rock the foundation” of Christianity and Judaism. She must have been very keen to press home this point, because she used the phrase again and again, although, perhaps worried we were tiring of it, she did once switch to “undermine the basis”

Michael Deacon goes on;

If you hadn’t already guessed from its subtitle, “Did God Have a Wife?”, you could tell this programme was trying hard to shock the moment you heard the music its producers had chosen to play in the background.

I very much want to make clear that I believe that programmes that question the origins and basis of religious traditions have a place in public broadcasting. I am in no way seeking a privileged place for religious belief and am certainly not seeking to exempt Christianity from critique on the grounds of personal offence. That the series was frustrating in both the manner in which the claims were sensationalised and perhaps more importantly in the way the views of a few on the fringe of academia were singled out for such a high profile is something perhaps I simply have to accept. Sensationalist claims boost viewing figures after all.

My original complaint, as Mr Roberts summarises accurately, is ‘that you felt this programme was biased against Christianity, and feel there should be other similar programmes exploring other religious beliefs’.

Given that he clearly understands my concerns it is Mr Roberts’ defence of the BBC’s position that cause great concern and warrants the need for a second letter. As a public service broadcaster the BBC must not only value, but be seen to value equality and fairness in its broadcasting and Christians ask for nothing more and nothing less. All we seek is a level playing field when it comes to world religions. Mr Roberts offers little if no assurance that the BBC is seeking to provide this.

He makes three responses to my letter.

Firstly he writes, ‘The BBC delivers a range of content that reflects, celebrates and debates Christianity across TV and radio’. I’m sure it does and that is not at all at issue so let us move on.

Secondly, he argues ‘It’s simply not correct to say there are no programmes on Islam or that the BBC would not address issues about Islam’. Again this is not in dispute and not a matter I raise in my letter. That the BBC has made programmes critical of radical interpretations of the Quran is neither here nor there.

The key issue, and my chief complaint, does receive the briefest of answers in Mr Roberts’ third point and it is here that the bias at the BBC seems to surface again.

In response to my complaint ‘why does the BBC attack the foundations of Christianity in programmes that rubbish the Bible in a way that it would never do to Islam in programmes that question the very authenticity of the Qur’an’ his reply makes a strange defence.

He argues that Channel 4 have already made that programme! It’s strange because firstly it’s not true and secondly it’s strange because Channel 4 is not the BBC!

In my earlier correspondence I pointed out various academic studies that if given the same sensationalising treatment as the ‘Bible’s buried secrets’ received would also ‘rock the foundation’ of Islam. Mr Roberts’ seems to think that these studies were reflected in a Channel 4 programme which he says ‘question(s) the conventional reading of the authenticity of the Qur’an’.

As Commissioning Editor for Religion and Head of Multicultural Programming at Channel 4 when this programme was made no doubt you share my concerns that Mr Roberts should have made, no doubt mistakenly, misleading claims as to the nature and content of the programme.

The Channel 4 documentary, entitled The Quran and broadcast in July 2008, categorically does not do what your correspondent maintains it does. It emphatically does not address the issue of the authenticity of the Qur’an.  As you know its concern was to focus on the issues surrounding the diverse interpretations of the book not the book itself. At no point did the programme criticise the Qur’an or mention any academic work that suggests the Qur’an is based on pre-Islamic texts. In other words, the programme at no point suggests in any way at all that the Qur’an might be merely a human book full of errors in the way that the BBC’s ‘Bible’s Buried Secrets’ does of the Bible.

So when Mr Roberts wrote in reply to my letter ‘This programme was only transmitted two years ago and no new academic work exists to warrant another film at present’ he is either ignorant of the Channel 4 programme or ignorant of the academic work or both.

The reality is, as I’m sure the forthcoming BBC series on the life of the prophet Mohammed will demonstrate, that Islam enjoys a privileged status at the BBC in being protected from criticism at its foundation. The BBC has never broadcast a programme questioning the behaviour of the prophet Mohammed nor critiquing the origins of the Qur’an. No such privilege is given to Christianity. In fact it’s quite the reverse. The corporation is quite ready to spend licence payers money on mocking and ridiculing Christianity, whether in light entertainment programmes such as Vicar of Dibley, and it’s indefensible airing of Jerry Springer the Opera or in sensationalist programmes undermining the credibility of the Bible but there is no level playing field and I suspect we all know why.

Should the BBC be free to mock Christianity? Yes. Should the BBC provoke our thinking and challenge our assumptions? In the name of education, absolutely. But should it single out Christianity for attack whilst protecting Islam? This is the big question and on this matter I look forward to receiving your answer.

 

Yours sincerely

 

3 Comments

  • I’d sound a note of caution here; when I was at university not that long ago, I was friends with the vice-president of the Islamic Society and in fact put the point to him that the BBC gave Islam a free ride and unduly criticised other faiths, particularly Christianity. His response was one of incredulity, and he said he saw the BBC as biased against Islam and against Muslims. I wasn’t hugely convinced that the examples he adduced were unfair in any way at all, but it did make me wonder just how much of the perceived bias against Christianity I saw the BBC as having was a product of my own filters and sensitivities, just as my Muslim friend was hyper-attuned to anything critical of his faith. Like they say, offence is not something that is given, but taken.

    • I agree with a note of caution and that’s why I go out of my way to stress in the letter that Christians are not seeking protection from criticism. But I think it is beyond doubt that whilst the practices of both Christians and Muslims receive equal criticism in the media that is not the case when it comes to sensationalist criticism of their respective books nor to their founders. So ‘Jerry Springer the Opera’ is deeply offensive to Christians because of it’s portrayal of Christ (not because of what it may or may not say about Christians) and yet the BBC decided to use licence payers money to do so. There is no way that the BBC would show anything that mocked Mohammed in such a deeply offensive way. The BBC is willing to make a three part series aimed at ‘rocking the foundation’ of Christianity ie the integrity and general trustworthiness of the Bible. I cannot foresee a day where the Qur’an would ever come under such scrutiny.

      In fact when Channel 4 made their documentary ‘The Qur’an’ they did interview at least one scholar (whom I have met and talked with about the programme) who is at the forefront of modern scholarship questioning the origins of the Qur’an. Yet, Channel 4 decided to edit out this interview from the programme before broadcasting it. Interestingly Mr Ahmed who commissioned the hatchet job on the Bible was commissioning editor for Channel 4 at the time!

  • [...] And perhaps one can be persuaded by the arguments from Catholic and other blogs and websites that this is [...]

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