Matt Jones

Religious Programming on the BBC

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Fulfilling its public service remit to offer a certain number of hours of religious programming, the BBC broadcasts a magazine show called Heaven & Earth between 1000 and 1100 on a Sunday morning. Every week, the show treads carefully around issues of religion and ethics while simultaneously having to appeal to everyone regardless of religious belief or ethical standpoint. To be honest, I think I prefer the all-out no-nonsense style of religious programmes like Songs of Praise, then I know to definitely hit the off button.

This week, to celebrate the show's fifth birthday, the Beeb broadcast a ‘Belief Special’, in which the biggest question of all was debated and opened to national phone vote: ‘Do you believe in God or not’? Joining an audience of ‘Holy Folk, New Agers and Sceptics’ was the debating panel of Dr Robert Beckford - director of the Centre fo Black Theology at the University of Birmingham, Jonathan Cainer - astrologer for The Mirror and all-round jerk, and Barbara Smoker - President of the National Secular Society (check out their merchandise) and campaigner for atheism.

After the phone poll had closed, the alarming result was announced that 81% of British public believed there is a God and 19% believed that there isn't (not sure where Agnostics fitted into all this). So, the presenters Philippa Forrester and Ross Kelly concluded the programme and the credits were just about roll when Barbara Smoker said:

‘Excuse me. But this is a religious program, so most of those watching and voting are bound to have religious beliefs’


It was a stunningly obvious thing to say but it desperately needed saying. The sceptics in the audience clapped in agreement while the presenters looked slightly embarrassed. However much the BBC tries to broaden the appeal of its religious programming, they will never broaden its audience by placing such programmes in the Sunday morning time slot and therefore polls like this will remain completely worthless. Thankfully, Barbara Smoker was there to highlight the silliness of it all.