The BBC and Christians: speak now!
What do you think of the way the world's leading news broadcaster covers Christians and their faith? Is it fair? Is it balanced? Is there even enough of it upon which to comment?
As it happens, I am writing these words having just heard the BBC at its best in terms of news coverage of Christians. Radio Four's flagship lunchtime programme, The World At One, devoted ten minutes to an interview with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby about the plight of Christian communities under attack in different parts of the world.
The interview was the main item following on from the news bulletin; the questioning (from Martha Kearney) was incisive and yet not intrusive, sympathetic and yet not sycophantic. In other words, it was a model of professionalism which truly enabled the Archbishop to articulate his concerns.
And yet I must admit I was holding my breath for much of the interview: would Martha Kearney spin him some googly of a question unrelated to the main subject under discussion? Would that in turn become the focus of subsequent "news" bulletins? Would the questions become increasingly acerbic?
Well, due respect must be given to the programme and to the broadcaster: the interview remained focused on the issue, the questioning remained courteous, and the result was a credit to both Archbishop and BBC.
But it's not always like that, is it. Sometimes we watch or listen to the BBC's news coverage of Christians and the Christian faith and we groan inwardly – or expostulate out loud! We've all seen and heard items where the issues are portrayed simplistically. We've all sunk our head in our hands as yet another complex matter is portrayed as a bout of fisticuffs between so-called liberals and so-called traditionalists.
Well, now we have a chance to air our views. The BBC is conducting a public consultation on its news and current affairs broadcasts. This means we can have direct input into the way the corporation covers Christian issues in its bulletins – as well, of course, as making comments on other news matters.
Let's think, for a moment, of the sort of questions we might want to ask ourselves. For example – do we think that news coverage of Christians is generally fair? Is there even very much of it? Can we think of specific examples where we think reporting has been unfair, stereotypical – or altogether absent? What is good – and what do we like?
Perhaps a particularly important question to be thinking about in shaping our input into this survey is to ask whether we think news coverage is conducted with integrity: for example, if a meeting of the Church of England's General Synod is taking place, and there are worthwhile sessions about, say, the environment, or justice, or the arms trade, do we feel that the entire range of debates would be covered – or just the "juicy" controversial or divisive bits?
There are issues of language too, aren't there: who decides who is a "liberal" or "traditionalist" or "fundamentalist"? More often than not these are labels chosen by those doing the interviewing rather than those being interviewed. Is that fair? Is that right?
You can take part in the survey by clicking here: http://consultations.external.bbc.co.uk/bbc/news_review/ Or, you can phone 0800 0680 116 to request a hard copy. The consultation is open until 13th December, so you have some time to think and pray.
The Book of Proverbs encourages us "to be honest and to speak the truth, so that you bring back truthful reports to those you serve," (22v21). May this be true both for BBC news and our comments to the review.