BBC cuts back on religion and ethics spending

Bishops have accused the BBC of sidelining faith by planning big cuts to religious programming.

The cuts come at a time of growing concern about religious extremism. But religion alone has not been singled out for cuts by the BBC, which was widely criticised earlier this year for its Songs of Praise broadcast from the Calais migrant camp.

Although the religion and ethics budget will be cut, according to The Telegraph, there will significant cuts across the corporation.

The BBC has already been criticised for the small amount of new religious programmes being broadcast over Christmas. 

Rachel Treweek, the Church's first woman diocesan, is critical of the BBC religion cuts.

Bishop of Gloucester Rachel Treweek said the decision to reduce Christmas programmes had presumably been made "to reduce the possibility of offending people with too much God stuff over the holiday".

Bishop of Norwich Graham James said: "It has already been reduced certainly in terms of its scope as an independent part of the BBC, at a time when we already need – as everyone acknowledges – more religious literacy in the nation." Further cuts will threaten the BBC's work around improving religious literacy. "What we need is intelligent religious broadcasting that runs counter to the narrative that religion is always extremist. Most religion in the world is not extremist at all."

Bishop of Leeds Nick Baines who chairs the Sandford St Martin Trust, which promotes religious broadcasting, said:

"At a time where religion and the understanding of the world through religious eyes has never been more important it would be somewhat irrational to diminish religious and ethical broadcasting. One cannot understand the modern world without understanding religion, not only as a phenomenon but as a primary motivator for human and social behaviour and public service broadcasting has a unique and vital role in ensuring that that process is interpreted to viewers and listeners."

Earlier this year the corporation's head of religion Aaqil Ahmed, who was the first Muslim in the job, had his decision-making role in programme commissioning removed.

A spokesman said the BBC will be looking at how to cut costs across the corporation because of "huge financial challenges". The BBC needs to make savings of more than £550 million by 2020/21.

"This means we are having to look at ways we can reduce costs across the corporation, but we want as much of our money to be spent on programmes and services as possible."