BBC television plans to close its religion and ethics section. Will the new approach lead to the Great British Pray Off?
Guardian Editorial. The BBC is to close its religion and ethics television studios in Manchester and rely on outside companies to produce its content in future. In some ways this move to external production companies is merely part of the long slow dismembering of the corporation. Songs of Praise, the archetype of an unfashionable BBC programme, is now to be made by two independent firms, using almost all the old BBC personnel, but off the corporation’s books. It is important that the BBC should continue to broadcast some shows that have no appeal to metropolitan people, or to anyone much under the age of 65. That is an important part of public service. It matters less, perhaps, who makes these programmes.
But the move is disturbing in wider directions. It suggests that the London-centric BBC has little interest in questions of religion and ethics – a suggestion that has grown over 20 or 30 years, symbolised first by the religious department’s move to Manchester all those years ago. There are some really talented and knowledgable journalists working for the BBC in this field but they have had considerable difficulty getting channel controllers to believe they are worth backing. This is in part a consequence of the decline in organised religion, especially in mainstream Christianity, over the same period, but to some extent the BBC department has been complicit in the corporation’s narrowness of vision. Songs of Praise is necessary television but all of the growth and most of the interest in religious stories in the last three decades has come from outside traditional Anglican Christianity.