In a letter to the Glasgow Herald today, the Archbishop of Glasgow, Mario Conti has accused the BBC of encouraging a "tabloid culture" in which it has shown "gross insensitivity" to the Catholic church. This culture, he said, was unworthy of "the world's most distinguished broadcasting organisation". Noting how the decision to mark the 25th anniversary of the pontificate of Pope John Paul II and the beatification of Mother Teresa had been juxtaposed with a documentary, Sex and the Holy City, about the efficacy of condoms in the fight against Aids, he writes: "Such scheduling showed gross insensitivity to the spiritual and historical significance of these moments." The archbishop also cited plans to broadcast Popetown, a cartoon which satirises the Pope as a childish pensioner, and "the hounding of the Archbishop of Westminster last year . . . by the Today programme and Newsnight", while Newsnight Scotland "carried a sneering and aggressive interview on the church's position on shared campus schools". The full text of the letter follows: Leaving aside a judgment on the outcome of the Hutton inquiry, it is reassuring to note that the BBC has responded by conducting what might be termed an "examination of broadcasting conscience". Such a process can only be beneficial to the corporation and satisfy those who rely on it for objective and authoritative reporting. I hope that in this period of reflection it will not be forgotten that other institutions, besides government, have had cause for complaint in recent years at some of the BBC's editorial stances. Even at the risk of apparent special pleading let me give examples from the corporation's recent coverage of the Catholic Church. First, the decision to mark the 25th anniversary of the pontificate of Pope John Paul II and the beatification of Mother Teresa with a documentary, Sex and the Holy City, about the efficacy of condoms in the fight against Aids. Such scheduling showed gross insensitivity to the spiritual and historical significance of these moments. I mention also the corporation's plans to broadcast Popetown Pa cartoon which satirises the Pope as a childish pensioner whose every fickle whim must be indulged. A prudent use of licence-payers' resources, I wonder? There was the hounding of the Archbishop of Westminster last year, once more by the Today programme and Newsnight, a process which seemed to owe more to the desire to claim an eminent scalp than to objective reporting of fact. And closer to home, Newsnight Scotland, just last week, carried a sneering and aggressive interview on the Church's position on shared campus schools, failing to distinguish tabloid fictions from fact. We do not object to probing questions. We do object to rudeness and prejudice. Mr Gilligan's admitted failures have been symptomatic of an increasingly cavalier attitude on the part of some at the BBC towards institutions and individuals for whom the redress of a public inquiry is not available. I have some sympathy for Mr Gilligan. At another time and in another place his error would have been immediately corrected and an apology issued. I have less sympathy for those in the corporation who have encouraged a tabloid culture which has seen the world's most distinguished broadcasting organisation employ tactics and standards unworthy of it. Of course the BBC is not the only, nor the worst, offender, but we did expect it to set a standard of probity, and we expect it still. A BBC spokesman told BBC Online: "We are always keen to ensure that all faiths are reflected across our output and are reported accurately. If Archbishop Conti wishes to raise any concerns about our output with us, we will be happy to respond to him directly rather than through the press."
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