12th May 2005

The BBC must not set itself up as an evangelical organisation which uses the airwaves to proselytise, says the National Secular Society in an open letter to BBC chairman Michael Grade.

The letter was prompted by news that the BBC board of governors is meeting tomorrow on Friday 13 May to consider how to improve its religious programmes and better "engage" the audience with them.

But Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, says that interest in religion in this country has never been lower, and it is not the business of the BBC to try to revive it.

"The BBC's own study, What the World Thinks of God" showed that Britain is probably one of the most religiously sceptical countries in the world. Now the Corporation is under sustained pressure from the churches and religious interests to up the amount of religious broadcasting and pour even more resources into it. But research shows that in houses that have Sky television, the audience for religious programmes - which are already small - drop by a further 84% when they are broadcast on terrestrial channels. TV regulator Ofcom found that less than 10% of the viewing public placed any value on religious programming."

Mr Wood said that "religion was a minority interest, and yet pressure on the BBC from religious interests was intense. Of course there is a place for some religion on TV, but let's keep it in proportion. What other sectional interest group has a whole department dedicated to it within the BBC? Which other interest group has thousands of hours of uninterrupted and unchallenged propaganda on TV? And yet, the religious groups are never satisfied; the more religion wanes, the shriller and more persistent their calls become. We are calling on Mr Grade to ignore calls for more religious broadcast time.

Mr Wood thought it revealing that the description of the BBC's forthcoming debate is reportedly to "find new ways to engage the audience with religion". "This suggests a starting point that is biased. It should not be the BBC's job to undertake proselytising for religions."

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Last Updated ( Thursday, 12 May 2005 )