The BBC have announced they are due to publish their review into religion content today. It’s been a typically long and drawn out process – decisions about balance and priorities in the world’s most prestigious broadcaster rightly take a lot of thought, and this issue in particular has required extensive consultation.
Mark Friend, the BBC manager who has led the process, is a good listener. I’m one of the people he listened to, and I know he successfully drew parts of the BBC into the conversation who hadn’t previously given much thought to the beliefs of the British public. His – and the collegiate team he led to oversee the process – findings will be announced today, and there are plenty of people with skin in the game who are waiting to hear whether their ask has been delivered.
Friend’s work has been received by the BBC Director-General Lord Hall, who is expected to make announcements today about staffing, range of religious voices represented (religion is by no means the only issue disproportionately represented by middle aged white men, but the BBC and other media outlets really need to widen their range of religious contacts for comment), and placement of religion content across programming.
Thought for the Day has already taken a beating this morning on the Today programme and will undoubtedly come in for more scrutiny. It’s a hardy perennial of the media world. Masquerading as a discussion about the place of religion in public life, it’s as much a gripe about editorial control. It must be very frustrating to produce the nation’s flagship news programme and have to give away a prime time slot to a production team in a completely different department, based in a city three hours away from the programme studio.
More will follow during the day, as the detail is announced, but don’t let’s forget that – despite the many justifiable criticisms of the BBC’s approach to religion and belief – the BBC is the most comprehensive source of religion news in the UK and has been for many years. I’ve produced a number of national conferences about religion and media, and have always found that most of the mainstream journalists covering faith and belief are based in or commissioned by the BBC. It’s an event producer’s nightmare; the lineup is always too BBC-heavy because, not only are the religion journalists all working for the BBC, their public service ethos means they’re willing and available to leave the studio and come to talk to a room full of people interested in learning from them and in challenging them to raise their game.
There will be plenty of BBC-bashing today. But they are the best in the business. Other media outlets could learn a lot from them.