London: The BBC today announced plans to expand its religious coverage to celebrate holy days and festivals of non-Christian faiths from around the world, including Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism. Under proposals to inject more religious themes into mainstream TV and radio of the UK’s public broadcaster, festivals like Diwali and Eid will take centre-stage during popular programming.
“We will create specific features and content for major festivals such as Diwali, Passover, Rosh Hashanah [Jewish new year], Ramadan, Eid and Vaisakhi [Sikh new year],” states the BBC’s ‘Religion and Ethics Review’, published today. Under the policy shift detailed in the new review, viewers will also see the protagonists of mainstream dramas grappling with dilemmas caused by their faith.
The move follows a year-long consultation that found that people of all faiths were “often absent, poorly presented or satirised” and as a result the BBC fails to reflect British society completely. “(The plans) will ensure the BBC better reflects the UK, the world and the role that religion plays in everyday life. They will also raise understanding of the impact religion has on decisions made at home and abroad,” Tony Hall, director general of the BBC, told The Times.
Under the new schedule, the BBC will broadcast prime-time documentaries on religious and ethical issues featuring celebrity hosts and guests. The BBC newsroom will expand its global religious affairs team and a daily ‘Thought for the Day’ slot on BBC Radio 4 will be more closely linked to news items.
“You’ll see both factual and scripted programmes that aren’t just in a ‘religion’ box but are dealing with religious themes across the piece,” said James Purnell, director of radio, education and religious programming. More women, young people and figures from a wider range of religions will be invited to contribute.
Hall stressed that the BBC’s commitment to covering Christianity would not be diminished in any way, as the corporation would find innovative ways to cover Christmas and Easter. The BBC’s ‘Religion and Ethics Review’ consulted more than 150 faith leaders and experts including the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi and senior Muslim figures as well as “secular belief groups” including Humanists UK.
“Our audience research shows that there is an opportunity to increase impact with a more mainstream audience and that this will require new talent, formats and approaches,” the review states. The BBC, which has earmarked 2019 as its “year of beliefs”, has said it will also represent the views of those who “are not engaged with traditional religion but are spiritual”.