BBC Staff Religion

Concern has been mounting for some time, among certain sections of the public, about a perceived anti-religious and, specifically, anti-Christian bias at the BBC. BRIN has already covered this story once, some six months ago, at:

http://www.brin.ac.uk/news/?p=1291

During recent days, the fires of discord have been stoked yet again, by an article in the Mail on Sunday for 4 December 2011 written by Jonathan Petre, an established religious journalist. Entitled ‘Christians a minority at “biased” BBC’, it drew attention to the fact that, according to a BBC staff diversity audit, the organization employs more atheists and non-believers than Christians. Petre’s article can be read at:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2069649/Christians-minority-biased-BBC.html

The revelation has grown legs since its publication and been picked up, apparently without any further investigation, by a range of media, print and online, national and international, secular and religious. For instance, it makes the front page of the current edition (9 December 2011) of the Catholic Herald, with a reinforcing editorial inside the paper.

The BBC was quick to respond to the Mail on Sunday, releasing a statement from Amanda Rice, BBC Head of Diversity, on 4 December which alleged that the newspaper had ‘wilfully misunderstood’ the statistics of BBC staff diversity. Rice protested that the voluntary diversity census of its employees, undertaken by Ipsos MORI in March 2011, had demonstrated that ‘the BBC is clearly an inclusive and richly diverse place to work’. The statement has been posted on the internet at:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/statements/041211response-amanda-rice.html

Rice also indicated that headline statistics about BBC staff diversity had been released by BBC People on 11 August 2011, in response to a request under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. The reply to this FOI enquiry, profiling BBC staff on permanent or fixed-term contracts on 30 June 2011 (and deriving from the Ipsos MORI census and other information volunteered by employees since July 2010, when religion was first recorded), is also publicly accessible at:

http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/foi/classes/disclosure_logs/rfi20110825_staff_age_disability_ethnicity_30062011.pdf

The reply shows that details of religion were only held for 51.7% of the 20,536 BBC staff members, the balance comprising cases which were categorized as ‘unknown’ or ‘prefer not to say’. The breakdown of this 51.7% was as follows: 

  • Christians – 22.5
  • Buddhists – 0.3
  • Hindus – 0.6
  • Jews – 0.7
  • Muslims – 1.2
  • Sikhs – 0.4
  • Other religion – 2.6
  • Atheists – 8.9
  • No religion – 14.6

If the figures are recalculated as a proportion of all BBC employees whose religion was known (n = 10,615), then Christians accounted for 43.5%, non-Christians for 6.2%, other religions for 4.9%, and atheists and those without religion for 45.4%. This is a somewhat artificial exercise and necessarily assumes that the religious affiliation of employees volunteering information about their faith was the same as those who did not respond – an assumption which may be unfounded. 

Nevertheless, viewed in this way, while the number of BBC staff without religion is certainly high in relation to the 2001 population census and the Integrated Household Survey, it is not out of line with the British Social Attitudes Survey (with 50% of the general public saying they did not belong to any religion in 2010). Also, BBC staff members are relatively young, with 50.9% under 40, and it has been abundantly proved by survey data that the youngest cohorts are most likely to be the least religious.


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