Wednesday, April 01, 2009

BBC downgrades Christian programming

The Archbishop of Canterbury has complained to the Director General of the BBC about the decline of religious programming at the Corporation. Dr Rowan Williams warned Mark Thompson at a meeting at Lambeth Palace that the broadcaster must not ignore its Christian audience. His intervention comes amid mounting concern among senior members of the Church of England that the BBC is downgrading its religious output and giving preferential treatment to minority faiths.

The corporation recently sacked its head of religious programmes, Michael Wakelin, a Methodist preacher. The emergence of a Muslim as the front-runner to succeed Mr Wakelin, along with the recent appointment of a Sikh to produce Songs of Praise, has raised fears within the Church that the Christian voice is being sidelined.

Mr Thompson caused controversy last year when he suggested that Islam should be treated more sensitively by the media than Christianity because Muslims are a minority religion.

As a public service broadcaster, the BBC has a duty to provide religious programmes. But Dr Williams challenged the director general during their meeting earlier this month over the decline in religious broadcasting on the BBC World Service. The World Service has reduced its English-language religious coverage from one hour 45 minutes a week in 2001 to a mere half an hour in 2009. The archbishop said that this had been a significant loss.

In a gathering of the Archbishops' Council, the Church's executive body, last week, Dr Williams agreed with suggestions that the future of religious broadcasting is under threat. Christina Rees, a member of the Archbishops' Council, said: "The vast majority of the population identifies itself as Christian and as the established Church in England we would be negligent not to take an active concern in the changes happening with the BBC's religion and ethics department."

The Rt Rev Graham James, the Bishop of Norwich, will hold a meeting next month with senior BBC and Church figures to discuss the corporation's attitude to faith issues. The Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch, the Bishop of Manchester, has already written to Mr Thompson to express his disquiet at the developments.

During the past year, four out of seven executives in the BBC's religion department have been made redundant, with Mr Wakelin the latest casualty. The favourite to succeed him is Aaqil Ahmed, a Muslim who – as commissioning editor for religion at Channel 4 – has been accused of treating faiths differently in the programmes he has commissioned.

Catholic priests last year accused Channel 4 of being biased in favour of Islam and claimed that Christianity was treated with less respect. Church leaders have privately expressed concern at the prospect of the appointment of a Muslim to head the BBC's religious coverage in addition to a Sikh producing Songs of Praise.

According to the Churches' Media Council, an umbrella organisation for different denominations, Christians are now significantly under-represented at the Corporation. It has expressed concern that no senior member of the department has an academic qualification in religion. The Rev Dr Joel Edwards, chair of the council, said: "There's no doubt that the BBC's specific expertise in religion has been diminished over the past few years as the TV side of the department has shrunk."

He urged the BBC to "rebuild its authority and secure the confidence of the faith communities by appointing staff and commissioning programmes that reflect the vibrancy of Christianity and the other UK faiths".

A BBC spokeswoman argued that changes that have been made to the department were intended to strengthen the BBC's offering. [Cutting back the hours devoted to religious broadcasts sure is a funny way to do that] "The BBC's commitment to Religion and Ethics is unequivocal and entirely safe," she said, adding that the BBC had stressed this to bishops who had expressed concerns. A Lambeth Palace spokeswoman said that they could not comment on a private meeting.


A vision of our fat future

The British writer below is acute enough to recognize that being fat is mostly genetic but unfortunately buys into the myth that being fat is unhealthy

Susan Ringwood, chief executive of Beat, the eating disorders charity, says those who overeat are, in many cases, as worthy of concern as those who undereat, but for obvious reasons don’t get as much attention as skeletal teenage girls who look almost like size-zero models.

“Overeaters know they are unhealthy. They know about their five a day but it’s no easier for them to make the long-term lifestyle changes to their diet than it is for anorexics,” she says. She also points out that when it comes to the spectrum of eating disorders, those who don’t eat, the anorexics, constitute only 10% – the tip of the iceberg. Most eat too much.

In the US they are way ahead of us. There, obesity has achieved the status of a “disease” even though it is caused by a combination of voluntary and involuntary factors: genes, sedentary lifestyles in the suburbs, the McDiet and an inability for various reasons to lose weight through exercise.

Stateside, the long-term effects and costs of what is regarded as the – sorry – ballooning obesity “epidemic” is the hottest issue in public health. Here, too, where two-thirds of us are carrying too many pounds of adipose tissue, we are beginning to wake up; the word “pandemic” has been applied to the nation’s thickening waistline by Brio, the Bristol University Research Into Obesity.

Dr James Le Fanu, the medical historian and GP, is one clinician who challenges the orthodoxy that chubsters have only themselves to blame. He thinks the cause of obesity is “not known”. He’s seen women on restricted diets failing to lose a single pound. His guess is that we all have thermostats, which govern our “energy balance” – how much weight we lose or gain relative to what we put in our mouths. He also believes that fatness runs in families, from observing this in his surgery.

This is the essence of the Chawner case, too. “We’re fat because it’s in our genes. Our whole family is overweight. Even when Philip went into hospital with septicaemia in 2006 he didn’t lose any weight. And he was eating tiny portions.”

Right, then. Fair enough. I am prepared to concede that being fat or being thin is partly in our DNA. But come on – it’s also a matter of choice, habit, lifestyle. It’s like smoking, drinking, sun-bathing – you can choose to gorge. Only, unlike smoking, which is in decline, more and more of us are “choosing” to be fat, or allowing our children to get fat, and that’s not good for any of us.

According to some estimates, obesity could cost the NHS in England £6.3 billion by 2015 unless the flab is fought. Some councils are having to shell out thousands of pounds on fat-friendly services, such as wider crematorium furnaces and bigger school chairs.

Whatever obesity’s cause, and however sympathetic we may or may not be, it doesn’t matter. Obesity is a national emergency. It is, yes, the new smoking. Rather than see them like animals in the zoo, we should commend the Chawner family freak show for displaying their bulk. They have drawn our horrified eyes to a health crisis that concerns us all.


The British love of crooks again

Police try to stop Facebook hunt for rapist... in case it 'victimises' attacker

Police have warned the fiance of a rape victim to shut down a Facebook site he set up to catch the attacker in case it 'victimises' the criminal, it has been claimed. The woman’s boyfriend posted CCTV images of the suspect after growing angry at what he thought was lack of progress by police after the rape in Sale, Manchester, last year. In the first known case of the social networking site being used to hunt a criminal, more than 5,000 people have joined the group Find the Sale Rapist. The home page has a detailed description of the attacker.

The police had published a CCTV image of the suspect on their website but took it down after just 10 days. On Facebook, the fiance, a former restaurant manager, pleads: 'The woman in question was my girlfriend. ‘After a frantic search I found her in the state this beast left her in. I ask everyone to help bring this sick pervert to justice.'

Greater Manchester Police are said to be taking seriously a name suggested by one contributor. But the distraught fiance, who is in his 20s, has been warned to remove the site out of fear the rapist will become a 'victim' of vigilante attacks. Police also believe comments that could prejudice a future trial.

He launched the site to track down the stranger who brutally raped his 21-year-old girlfriend as she walked less than a mile to her parents' home from a pub in Sale, Manchester, on August 2 last year. He was due to meet her half way but she failed to turn up. After a desperate 45-minute search, he discovered her cowering behind a hedge by the side of the road in tears. His traumatised girlfriend, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is too scared to go out at night and cannot work, he said.

Speaking from the home they share in Greater Manchester, he said last night: 'She was a mess when I found her at about 3am. I'll never forget the horror of that moment. 'This evil and dangerous man is still out there but after all these months, the police seemed no closer to catching him. ‘Who logs on to a police website on the off-chance there might be someone wanted who they might recognise? 'They could have given it greater publicity, with posters or more door-to-door knocks. ‘I have managed to get the picture out to more people who are likely to have been out that evening. 'Now they have warned it may have to be taken down. I'm furious that his human rights seem to be prioritised when my fiancee is the one who has suffered.' 'The police said he could be victimised and it could prejudice a future trial.'

The group describes the suspect as a 6ft white man in his 40s or 50s with blond or white hair, a chunky nose, long ears and a local accent.

The fiance added: 'I've been told the site could jeopardise a court case. But if he's not caught, there won't be a court case at all. I'd ask anyone who recognises the man to contact police.'

Greater Manchester Police said they were not able to comment on the individual case yesterday, but a spokesman said that website comments could risk prejudicing a future trial. He added: 'We would work closely with Facebook and the owners of the site and suggest that certain things might be removed. ‘The internet is a minefield and we have to be aware of legislation around anything that is published.'


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