A Catholic and an Anglican bishop have jointly called on the BBC to include religion on Radio 1, describing the omission as the “most striking exclusion of religion from the BBC 's output.”
Bishop Nigel McCulloch of Manchester, senior Church of England spokesman on communications, and Bishop John Arnold, chair of the Strategic Communications Board, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, responded to the BBC Trust's consultation on its Service Licenses and Purpose Remits. The consultation is intended to help the Trust to govern BBC output.
The bishops said the Trust sometimes includes religion under its duty to “reflect the nations, regions and communities of the UK and sometimes does not.”
"Religion figures strongly in the output of Radio 2, 3, and 4 under the proposed licenses for individual BBC services, but it does not appear under Radio 1,” the bishops noted. They argue that the exclusion of religion from Radio 1 is not only illogical but also inconsistent.
“Unless religion is appropriately included in the Radio 1 license, audience needs may not be met,” the bishops said. Radio 1's young target audience has a thirst for spiritual input which a recent survey for the charity Tearfund shows is greater than for older age-groups. Church of England Cathedrals also attract a growing number of 16-24 year olds, according to recent figures.
The bishops also say the current draft of Service Licenses does not provide for any regulation of the amount of religious output in general programming such as dramas, soap operas, documentaries or news, which the Director-General has said he wants to encourage.
They call for an explicit commitment in the BBC's Purpose Remits to better informed coverage of religion, citing the recent comment of BBC Governor Richard Tait about “how important religion is as a factor influencing major political and social events.”
The bishops are surprised that the BBC's purpose to “bring the UK to the world and the world to the UK” does not expressly mention religion.“It should be part of the BBC's public purposes to address 'the clear distinctions between culture, ethnicity and faith, which are a key part of how different communities understand themselves,” they argue.