Friday, April 03, 2009

The Eviction of the Climate Camp

I strongly urge you to take a look at this first-person account of Wednesday's events, written by Simon Keyes from the St Ethelburga's Centre for Reconcilliation and Peace in the City of London.

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

BBC Religion Shake Up

Last night I was fortunate enough to hear a most informative and entertaining talk on religion and the media given by Michael Wakelin, Head of Religion and Ethics at the BBC. As Michael said, it was quite probably the last presentation he would make in his current role. In a restructuring exercise, Religion and Ethics is to be merged with the BBC’s Factual unit, to create a new Factual and Religion department. Although Michael was invited to reapply for the new post of commissioning editor and head of production within the new unit, he was unsuccessful and so has became, as I understand it, the fourth out of seven executives in the religion department to lose their jobs in the past year.

Quite understandably, many of Michael’s colleagues and numerous faith leaders are furious. Many have leapt publically to his defence and called upon Director General Mark Thompson for assurances that the move does not signify yet another downgrade for religious broadcasting.

Very generously, given that he has been kicked out of a job he clearly loves, Michael was optimistic last night about the future of religion at the BBC. I do hope he is proved right.

On Michael’s watch, Religion and Ethics has produced some of its best broadcasting since what I feel was the heyday of religious broadcasting in the 1980s and early 90s. As Michael pointed out last night, most of the time at any rate, religion had a stronger and more respected role within the BBC. The flagship Heart of the Matter and Everyman strands were on almost weekly on BBC1, offering a regular slot for swift and intelligent responses to religious and ethical issues as they arose within the news agenda. What was then called Focus on Faith on the World Service (it became Reporting Religion), and the BBC Radio 4 Sunday programme had a similar role. Now, the only avenue left for religious current affairs reportage is Sunday, which has of course been cut from the significant time of 7.40 - 08.55 when I worked there to what is now a clearly downgraded 45 minutes starting at 7.10.

Of course, religious broadcasting wasn’t perfect back then. There were very few non-Christians working within the department and I always wondered if there was too much coverage on the machinations of the Church of England and not enough focus on the rapidly diversifying religious landscape of Britain, with a huge rise in numbers of adherents to other major faiths and growing interest in newer religious movements. Michael Wakelin seemed to redress and get the balance right. His early commissioning of The Manchester Passion for instance was a brave and highly successful coup, showing as it did the continuing significance and relevance of Christianity. The hugely successful series, The Monastery didn’t just give remarkable insight into religious community, but also tapped into the burgeoning 21st century quest for personal development. The more recent Around the World in 80 Faiths was a brilliant and energetic tour of all that makes religion so vibrant and meaningful and utterly wonderful.

Michael will be missed. Meanwhile, I can only hope that whoever is chosen to fill his shoes continues in his vein, and doesn’t fall into the trap of attempting to explore issues within certain faith communities while ignoring or being more critical of others, or bowing to pressure from increasingly fundamentalist secularist pressure groups. And I hope they get the respect they deserve in the role from the upper echelons of the BBC.

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