BBC accused of reneging on promise to support religious programming

Complaints from the Sandford St Martin Trust over the cancellation of “Something Understood”

Is the BBC reneging on its commitment to religion and ethics less than a year since the publication of its landmark Religion and Ethics Review?

Last week the BBC confirmed that it will no longer be making new editions of the long-running religious and ethical programme Something Understood causing audiences to ask how deep is its commitment to the promises made by the Director General, Lord Tony Hall in the BBC Religion & Ethics Review published in December 2017. 

From April 2019, originations of Something Understood will be replaced by programmes from its archive.

Responding to the news of the programme’s demise, Jan McFarlane, the Bishop of Repton and Chair of the Sandford St Martin Trust said:

“When it published its Religion and Ethics Review last year, the BBC concluded that it was committed to reforming its output and the Director-General of the BBC said that their plans “will ensure that the BBC better reflects the UK, the world, and the role that religion plays in everyday life”.  As interesting and valuable  as the archive examples of Something Understood are, they will not represent the role that religion continues to play in everyday life todaye evolving world or contemporary decisions made at home and abroad.  In cancelling Something Understood, I fear the BBC has reneged on its professed commitment to religious and ethical broadcasting less than a year since the publication of its review”.

Bishop Jan went on to ask suggest that the decision to replace the current series – in which journalists and commentators such as Mark Tully, Remona Aly, John McCarthy and Rowan Williams, among others, explore contemporary issues and aspects of belief in depth – with archive, implies that the BBC believes religion is for yesterday and not for today.

In response to a query from the Trust the BBC issued the following statement:

“The BBC continues to face significant financial challenges and has to save £800 million by 2021, so Radio 4 like the rest of BBC Radio has to make tough choices. We’ve broadcast Something Understood for nearly 24 years and we know the decision to no longer make this programme will disappoint our audience but we have a full and rich back catalogue of the programme and we propose to fill the schedule with the best of the archive for the foreseeable future. We are putting into action our plans to increase the ambition of religious programmes and the critically acclaimed Morality in the 21st Century is an example of this, plus series like Moral Maze and Sunday continue to explore religious and ethical questions in depth.”

The Sandford St Martin Trust, which contributed to the BBC’s Review, believe that while Morality in the 21st Century – presented by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks and broadcast last September – was indeed an ambitious and excellent week-long series, the BBC will need to commission many more such strands to replace the 52 editions of Something Understood broadcast throughout the year.

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