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BBC to increase religious coverage to better represent all faiths

Review reportedly finds religious people ‘poorly presented or satirised’, and suggests programming that ‘better reflects the UK’

The BBC is set to increase its coverage of religions after a year-long review found that people of all faiths were “often absent, poorly presented or satirised”, according to reports.

The corporation’s religion and ethics review, which is out on Wednesday, proposes a variety of improvements such as including religious themes in the broadcaster’s popular dramas and soaps on both TV and radio, more documentaries covering religious and ethical issues being commissioned and for popular programmes such as The One Show to celebrate Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Jewish holy days.

The BBC newsroom’s global religious affairs team will be expanded and the Thought for the Day slot on Radio 4 will be more closely linked to news items with women and young people. Figures from a wider range of religions will be invited to contribute.

The proposals echo a new set of rules from Ofcom, which in October ordered the broadcaster to have more religious programmes on BBC One and BBC Two.

Tony Hall, director general of the BBC, told the Times: “[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.”

The review involved consultations of more than 150 experts and faith leaders including the Archbishop of Canterbury, the chief rabbi and senior Muslim figures, as well as groups such as Humanists UK.

Those consulted complained that programmes “don’t reflect the everyday role of faith or [the] diversity of communities in mainstream drama and comedy”.

The BBC has previously faced criticism from the Daily Mail, among others, for increasing its coverage of other faiths at the expense of Christian programmes, but Hall told the Times that the BBC will continue to be committed to covering Christianity.

The increased focus on religion is set to raise eyebrows, given more than half the population say they have no religion whatsoever, according to recent figures from the British Social Attitudes survey.

The BBC already produces more religious coverage than any other broadcaster, with 7,000 hours devoted to faith programming. The review found that much of this consists of traditional shows such as Songs of Praise rather than primetime TV or radio.

There have been cuts to religious programming in recent years and in April this culminated in the closure of its religion and ethics television studios in Manchester. This was mainly due to more programmes, including Songs of Praise, being made by independent production companies rather than in-house.

The broadcaster will also strive to represent the views of those who “are not engaged with traditional religion but are spiritual”.

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