‘The BBC “is ageist and anti-Christian”: that’s the verdict of the Corporation’s OWN survey’, ran the headline over an article by Paul Revoir in yesterday’s edition of the Daily Mail, although the paper’s reporter had to confess that ‘it is not known exactly how many respondents expressed the view that the BBC was anti-Christian … ’
After some digging around, BRIN has traced the origins of this story back to a report by Public Knowledge, written on 31 January 2011 but not actually published by the BBC until 24 May, when the Corporation launched its diversity strategy for 2011-15. The Public Knowledge document can be downloaded from:
This report was in fact not based upon any representative survey of the national population but was summarizing the results of online consultations about diversity run by the BBC for the public and BBC staff between 10 November 2010 and 7 January 2011. Those who replied (4,195 and 287 respectively) were entirely self-selecting.
Public Knowledge did indeed conclude that ‘in terms of religion, there were many who perceived the BBC to be anti-Christian and as such misrepresenting Christianity. Other respondents raised the same issue in terms of Muslims with responses suggesting that some BBC programming can be perceived as anti-Muslim or misunderstanding the religion.’
Also, ‘Christians are specifically mentioned as being badly treated, with a suggestion that more minority religions are better represented despite Christianity being the most widely observed religion within Britain.’
However, no statistics were cited to back up any of these statements. This was (from this particular standpoint, at least) an essentially qualitative piece of research.
Perceptions of the extent of Christianophobia have, therefore, to be quantified from other sources, including the Government’s Citizenship Surveys and opinion polls.
As previously noted, one of the latter has suggested recently that 27% of the British public believe that Christians are unfairly negatively portrayed in the media, with 34% saying the same about Muslims (http://www.brin.ac.uk/news/?p=1128).
In answer to the Daily Mail, a BBC spokesman said: ‘The BBC does not have an anti-Christian bias. We have strict editorial guidelines on impartiality, including religious perspectives, and Christian programming forms the majority and the cornerstone of our religion and ethical output.’
One thing neither the Daily Mail nor the BBC picked up was the significant variation in the religious profiles of the public and BBC staff replying to the consultations. Whereas 63% of the former professed Christianity, this was true of only 37% of the latter. And while just 23% of the public claimed no religion, the proportion among BBC staff was as high as 50%.
It is entirely possible that such a marked religious contrast between the BBC’s employees and the licence-payers whom they serve may arise from the atypicality of the BBC staff who responded to the consultation.
Or there could be another demographic explanation, such as the relatively younger age structure of BBC personnel (the young being known to be less religious than their elders).
But it would certainly be interesting to know for sure. Presumably, the BBC will be reporting more fully on the religious allegiance of its employees when its new diversity strategy has kicked in.