Monday, June 22, 2009

Church of England to confront BBC over treatment of Christianity

The BBC faces a clash with the Church of England over claims that its new head of religious broadcasting has given preferential treatment to minority faiths

Concerns over the appointment of Aaqil Ahmed, who was poached by the corporation from Channel 4 last month, will be raised in a Church document to be published tomorrow. It calls his move to the BBC a "worrying" development and accuses the corporation of treating religion like "a freak show".

Senior bishops have signalled their backing for the paper, which is set to trigger a debate at the General Synod, the Church's parliament, over the alleged marginalisation of religious broadcasting.

Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, met with Mark Thompson, the BBC's director-general, in March to challenge him about the issue. Now a motion prepared for the Synod calls on the corporation to explain the decline in its coverage of religion and its failure to provide enough programming during key Christian festivals.

The document accompanying the motion, published ahead of next month's General Synod in York, criticises the lack of regular religious programmes on BBC television and alleges that Mr Ahmed, a Muslim, displayed anti-Christian bias while in charge of commissioning at Channel 4. "The regular BBC Television coverage of religion consists of just two programmes." the Church paper says. "BBC 3 tackles religion rarely but does so from the angle of the freak show, and many of the Channel 4 programmes concerned with Christianity, in contrast to those featuring other faiths, seem to be of a sensationalist or unduly critical nature. "From this point of view it is worrying that the Channel 4 religion and multicultural commissioning editor, Aaqil Ahmed, who is a Muslim, is soon to be responsible for all the religious output from the BBC."

Last summer, Channel 4 screened a week of special programmes on Islam including a feature-length documentary on the Koran, and a series of interviews with Muslims around the world talking about their beliefs.

The main Christian documentary broadcast for Easter that year, called The Secrets of the 12 Disciples, cast doubt on the legitimacy of the Pope's leadership of the Roman Catholic Church.

Nigel Holmes, a General Synod member and former BBC producer, who has tabled the motion and who wrote the paper, said that the Church needed to tackle the issue at a time when the future of religious broadcasting was under threat. "There is an element of uncertainty at the BBC with all of the changes there, and the appointment of Aaqil Ahmed gives rise to an element of concern," he said. "He has been involved with programmes that have tended to look at the fringes of Christianity where it can be brought into disrepute. "Religion is higher on the political agenda than ever before and we are crying out for programmes that give a moral view." Mr Holmes attacked the BBC for the lack of religious television programmes at Easter, but said that ITV has also failed to give enough coverage.

The Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, has signalled he would support the motion. He told The Sunday Telegraph that Mr Ahmed is "duty bound to provide adequate time and fair representation to the Christian faith and to Christian concerns".

The Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch, the Bishop of Manchester, has previously accused the BBC of "overlooking" Good Friday. "Many people want an appropriate marker of religious significance, whether it is life and death or Easter and Christmas," he said.

While the BBC's total output of television hours has doubled over the past 20 years, the amount of religious coverage has fallen by nearly 15 per cent, from 177 hours in 1988 to 155 in 2008. Critics of the corporation are upset that respected programmes such as Everyman and Heart of the Matter have not been replaced. They argue that well-produced and promoted programmes can attract a large audience. The Passion, which received a big budget and prime-time slot, attracted more than five million viewers when it was broadcast last year...

The Rev Jonathan Alderton-Ford, vicar of Christ Church, Bury St Edmunds, and a General Synod member, said that he would support the motion. "It gives voice to the concerns many of us have about the drift of the BBC over the last decade," said Mr Alderton-Ford, who has advised the Church on media issues. "The BBC's bias permeates its programme-making, so that the Christians get criticised while the minority faiths escape the same treatment. It's necessary that we debate this."

A spokesman for the BBC said that Mr Ahmed was the best-qualified candidate for the role and rejected claims that religious affairs has been covered in a "sensationalist manner". She added: "The BBC's commitment to religion and ethics broadcasting is unequivocal. As the majority faith of the UK, Christians are and will remain a central audience for the BBC's religious and ethics television and other output."


British registrar demoted to receptionist because she refused to "marry" homosexuals

A Christian registrar was demoted to receptionist because she refuses to preside over gay ‘marriages’ – and last night claimed she is facing dismissal. The case parallels that of 48-year-old Lillian Ladele, the registrar who won a similar battle last year against Miss Davies’s employers – Islington Council in North London. Miss Davies has worked for the council for 18 years and was a friend and colleague of Miss Ladele in the same department.

She will send a strongly worded letter to all members of the House of Lords tomorrow, highlighting her plight and complaining of a ‘militant political-sexual libertarian lobby’ at the council. Miss Davies told The Mail on Sunday: ‘Britain is supposed to be a nation that respects freedom of conscience. But my conscience is not being respected. If Islington Council believes in dignity for all, why can’t my beliefs be accommodated and why is my dignity not being respected? ‘I have nothing against homosexuals. My colleagues in the office will tell you that – and the openly gay ones have no problem with me. All I am asking is that the system can be arranged so I do not have to perform civil partnerships.’

At one point Miss Davies, who is not married, rose to deputy superintendent registrar – third in the hierarchy in the 16-strong department – although she then chose to return to the role of deputy registrar. After the introduction of civil partnerships in December 2005 she told her bosses her beliefs would preclude her from performing same-sex ceremonies. While her position was being discussed, she felt under so much pressure that in June 2006 she took four months’ sick leave with stress.

On her return she says she was told that she would have to be demoted to an entry-level job on reception or face dismissal. Believing that she had no choice, she accepted and worked as a receptionist for the next two years, despite finding it humiliating. She said: ‘I was shocked because I knew that if they had wanted to they could have accommodated me. ‘I know of other councils that have allowed Christian registrars to carry on by ensuring that colleagues are given civil partnerships – but I was told this was not Islington’s policy. ‘I was very disappointed, very saddened and angry. It was humiliating to be back on reception, where I had started.’

When Miss Ladele won her employment tribunal case against Islington in July last year, Miss Davies was moved on to the general rota, though she had few marriages to conduct. She was even put back on to the full marriage rota – but in December Islington Council won an appeal against Miss Ladele, upholding its right to insist that staff carry out civil partnerships. Miss Ladele is now taking her case to the Court of Appeal.

In January this year Miss Davies failed to conduct a civil partnership ceremony for which she was rostered – it was carried out by colleague instead – and a staff member complained. In March, John Lynch, the head of her department, told her to perform civil partnerships or she would be removed from the marriage rota. Last week, she was told she was being demoted to a reception job for a second time as part of a ‘restructuring’.

With the backing of the Christian Legal Centre, Miss Davies is now launching a grievance procedure against the council, arguing that she has been the victim of discrimination on the grounds of her religious beliefs. She said: ‘Doctors can opt out of performing abortions on conscience grounds so why can’t I opt out of civil partnerships?’

When the Government introduced new laws to criminalise the stirring up of hatred against gays and lesbians last year, Lord Waddington forced through an amendment to safeguard people’s rights to make reasonable comments about homosexuals. But the Government is now trying to remove this amendment. In her letter to peers, Miss Davies urges them to block the Government’s attempt to do so.

An Islington Council spokesman said: ‘Following detailed discussions with Miss Davies, a year ago she accepted another job in the same team that did not require her to conduct civil partnerships or marriages. ‘Miss Davies made no formal response to a recent consultation on a restructure in the registrars’ department, and we have no reason to think she was unhappy with her role. ‘Islington council expects employees to provide services to all sections of the community.’


As mobs drive Romanian gipsies out of Ulster, we ask who's REALLY to blame?

Gipsies have been loathed wherever they go in Europe because of their high rate of criminality and antisocial behaviour

On a piece of waste ground poisoned by toxic chemicals, a group of teenagers were indulging in an age-old ritual this week. They were making a giant bonfire from old crates and timber stolen from derelict buildings. When a huge pyre had been erected, the youths retired to admire their work from the ‘den’, a hut they’d built for their gang from scrap and furnished with sofas found dumped on the street. There were even broken venetian blinds at the front of the hut, which twisted and moaned in the wind.

Next month, on July 11, the night before the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne — when Protestant King William of Orange defeated the Catholic King James in 1690 — the bonfire will be set ablaze. Along with hundreds of other bonfires lit across Belfast that night, the flames are meant to remind the Catholic majority of that historic Protestant victory, and serve warning that Loyalists will still fight fire with fire if any attempt is made to separate them from British rule.

Yet, as they prepared their fire to coincide with Ulster’s ‘marching season’, it transpired that this generation of young men had also been involved in a sinister, disturbing new ritual: mounting racial attacks on the ‘foreigners’ in their midst. With swastikas daubed on the walls of their den, these youths — aged from 14 to 20 — admitted they had been present during the attacks on Romanian immigrants this week that made headlines around the world. ‘So what if we were?’ said one, curling his lip. ‘They had it coming.’

To cries of anguish from politicians and citizens alike, the tumultuous events of the past week have again thrust Belfast to the forefront of world attention, after more than 100 Romanian gipsies, known as Roma, were forced to flee in terror when gangs armed with bottles and rocks drove them from their homes. In echoes of the sectarian violence at the height of The Troubles, when those from the ‘wrong’ religion were burned out of their homes, these attacks happened in an affluent, liberal part of the city, home to Queen’s University and countless trendy bars and bistros. Violence flared when more than 30 youths gathered outside the homes of about 20 Roma on Sunday night, taunting and jeering and smashing their windows. They came again the following night, hurling rocks and bottles at the windows and making Nazi salutes.

The Romanian families, including a five-day-old baby girl, cowered inside as the mob shouted and swore that the foreign gipsy ‘scum’ should pack up and go — or face the consequences. After police were called, the mob was dispersed and about 20 Romanian families emerged from their damaged homes. Clutching old suitcases and blankets, and looking terrified as the cameras recorded their every move, they were given shelter in a local church hall. But their numbers grew. By Wednesday morning, 115 Roma had congregated, telling the authorities that they did not feel safe in their own homes. As one man lugged an accordion past the waiting photographers, and women sobbed, pictures of these pitiful scenes went round the world.

After being moved into a leisure centre, where mattresses were spread out on indoor tennis courts and local people donated soup and sandwiches, the few Romanians who could speak English claimed that some of the attackers had been armed with guns, although the police later said they had no evidence to support this. ‘They made signs like they wanted to cut my brother’s baby’s throat,’ said Couaccusil Filuis, who’d come from a village near Bucharest, the Romanian capital. ‘They said they wanted to kill us. We are very scared. We have young children. We could go back to Romania, but we have no money. We have to stay here.’

Strugurel Teglas, another Roma, who had been selling newspapers and washing cars in Belfast, said: ‘No money for food in Romania. 'Romania no job. Belfast job. But ten persons come. They drink. They broke in the house. They no good.’

Understandably, the scenes of foreigners being evacuated with their belongings were received with horror. This, after all, is a city still nervously emerging from decades of violence and bloodshed. The last thing anyone wants to see is new fissures in Ulster’s tragic history of ethnic hatred. Indeed, so appalled was Naomi Long, the Lord Mayor of Belfast, that she was in tears when she was asked about the violence. ‘A minority of people in this city have brought shame on us and I urge the good people of Belfast, the overwhelming majority, to co-operate with the police and bring the perpetrators of these racist attacks to justice.’

As Gordon Brown called on the authorities to take all possible action to end the violence, and former IRA terrorists now sharing power condemned those involved in the violence, Mrs Long pledged to do everything possible to persuade the Romanians to stay in Northern Ireland. ‘If they go back to Romania, the thugs will think they have won,’ she added. ‘That is the last thing we want. We must find them permanent new homes.’

Not everyone shares her sentiments. There was fury in The Village, a rugged working-class area a mile from the attacks, some of whose residents joined the mob wanting to drive the Roma out. With murals of the Queen painted on walls and Union Jacks fluttering from virtually every window, the people of The Village are incensed at the ‘special treatment’ they say immigrants receive, while they themselves live in grim terrace homes with outside toilets. ‘These people are sly,’ said Annie Johnson, a local woman. ‘It’s all just a racket — they put on their sad faces and get moved to the top of the queue for housing. ‘Politicians are full of cr*p. They leap into action at the first mention of racism — but what about the poor people who have lived here all their lives?’

Opinion has been inflamed not only by the crimes the police and locals agree some of the Roma commit — but also by the fact that no one has even been able to debate the issue of their presence in the city without being accused of racism. Ian Magill, 45, runs the only shop in The Village, which was once a stronghold for Loyalist terrorists. He is a calm, intelligent man, whose greatest wish is that his three sons do not get into trouble with the law. Dominic, his youngest son, was adopted from Croatia, so Mr Magill can hardly be described as someone with a hatred of foreigners. But he is under no illusions about why people from his area were involved in the violence.

‘People feel like they are under siege because of all the immigrants coming in,’ he said. ‘It’s getting to the stage where people just don’t care any more. ‘You get branded a racist if you speak out about the issue of immigration. But I think I’m being a realist, not a racist, when I say that this is something we must address. ‘Most of the Polish immigrants work — but these people [Romas] don’t,’ he added. ‘They are pretty uneducated and they seem to think that the only way they can survive is to bend the rules. ‘But when you are doing this, and carrying out crimes against local people, it becomes a problem. They shouldn’t be here.’

Not all Mr Magill’s fellow citizens are as considered as he is. At a nearby off-licence, a young, welldressed man of about 30 erupts in anger. He says all these ‘foreigners should be burned out of their f****** homes. All we hear about are their problems. For once, why don’t you write about the problems these people cause to us locals’. He is referring to a wave of petty crime that has swept Belfast over the past two years — the period in which the Roma have arrived.

The crimes, confirmed by police, range from ‘mobbing’ elderly ladies at cashpoint machines, distracting them while they steal cash, to using razor blades to slice the straps of handbags and disappear with possessions before anyone knows. Roma have also been linked with prostitution and people trafficking. But it is the petty crimes that are causing such fury. Countless people I spoke to in The Village reported clothes being stolen from their washing lines — one man claimed to have seen a Roma wearing his distinctive jeans, which had disappeared while hanging out to dry, only for the thief to laugh in his face — and children’s bikes being taken from back yards....

Interpol has since warned that organised criminals among the Romanian immigrants are stealing from indigenous populations on the orders of gangsters back home. British police said last year that they were struggling to cope with a staggering 800 per cent increase in crimes, such as pickpocketing, committed by Romanians since they started coming to Britain in large numbers.

Forces in Germany and France have also reported more crime, some of it violent. In Italy, murders, rapes and kidnappings have been blamed on the newcomers. Inevitably, there is a danger that Roma are unjustly blamed for the crimes of others. But acts of retaliation are taking place everywhere.

Marian Mandache, of Romani Criss, a group dedicated to helping the gipsies, says the violence in Belfast follows a disturbing trend of assaults on the Roma across Europe. ‘Starting in Italy, there have been waves of attacks — as well as in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, everywhere.’

Racial tensions are rising throughout Europe as the pace of immigration intensifies and economies deteriorate. In Italy, the authorities have started fingerprinting Roma immigrants and repatriating them after their alleged crimes led to waves of brutal, retaliatory attacks by locals.

More than 1,000 Roma have arrived in Northern Ireland. Few speak English and ‘begging gangs’ now operate throughout Belfast. Local tourism websites are clogged with comments about aggressive beggars, pickpockets and con artists — though clearly they are not all Roma....

Of course, no right-thinking person can condone the attacks that have seen the Roma families moved this weekend to a new, secret location. Yet it is the lack of debate (or action) on immigration by politicians that has contributed to these festering frustrations, just as it has led to the appalling spectre of two seats for the British National Party in this month’s European elections.


Must not mention that many female tennis players look attractive

We read:
"As a former Wimbledon champion, Michael Stich might be expected to have an expert appreciation for the skill and dedication required to play tennis at its highest level.

But on the eve of this year’s tournament, the BBC Radio 5 Live commentator has caused outrage among the sport’s female stars by claiming their role is as much about ‘selling sex’ on court as it is about their sporting prowess....

However, not everyone took offence. Two-time Wimbledon singles winner Serena Williams admitted: ‘Sex sells! It’s great for Angelina Jolie and it’s true


There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc.

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