Mark Thompson defends BBC's record on religion

 The BBC Director-General, Mark Thompson, gave a robust defence of the BBC's engagement with religion during his 2008 Theos lecture on Tuesday night.

In his speech, Mr Thompson said that the relationship between religion and the media was important "because, quite simply, religion is back. It's not just in the news, but often leads the news." The assumption when he joined the BBC back in 1979, that the decline and marginalization of religion was a straightforward corollary of modernism and was inevitable, is in the process of being discredited, he added.

Commenting on a speech given by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2005 on the media, where he argued that news media often acted in ways which were "lethally damaging" to journalism's own reputation, Mr Thompson defended the media and the BBC.

Claims that the BBC was anti-God were "not just too sweeping; they are not even directionally true", said Mr Thompson.

"I believe that the BBC has maintained the daily and weekly presence of religion on its services with more consistency and commitment over decades than any other British media organization, and also more than most of the rest of what you could call public Britain.

"This year we celebrated the 80th anniversary of the launch of the Daily Service. Songs of Praise, Choral Evensong, Thought For The Day, Prayer For The Day: the reflection of the cycle of the Christian week and the Christian year is there for anyone who wants to find it. So too ­ though admittedly less prominently ­ reflections of some of the key festivals of the UK's other major faiths. It's hard to square any of this with the idea of the BBC as the anti-God squad."

In the Q&A following Mr Thompson's speech, chaired by the broadcaster Jeremy Vine, the Director-General said coverage of minority faiths should be treated differently from Christianity because people of those faiths often came from ethnic minorities. Mr Thompson added that the BBC would show programmes that criticised Islam if they were of sufficient quality.

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