North London parish protests over BBC report

St John Vianney’s, West Green, London

St John Vianney’s, West Green, London

A parish in north London has complained over the way in which the BBC carried out an interview in their church. They say that although they were approached by a BBC reporter who asked to speak with parishioners about their views on the Pope's visit - in fact a service at the church was just used as a backdrop to an interview with someone from a campaigning group not based in the parish.

Parishioner, Barbara O’Driscoll, has sent the following letter to Mark Thompson, the Director General of the BBC about the episode.

Dear Sir

I saw the news item on the Poll for the BBC of Catholics in the UK ahead of the Pope’s visit on the BBC 6pm news yesterday evening. I was shocked and very disappointed with the report. I feel that the BBC has misrepresented my parish of St John Vianney’s in South Tottenham, North London. I am also very disturbed at the devious way in which Robert Pigott, the BBC Religious Correspondent and his department has deceived the parish, the public and the BBC management.

The following is an account of what happened. This morning our parish priest, Father Joe Ryan informed us that the BBC would be filming in our parish during the 11 o’clock Mass and asking parishioners for their views on the Pope’s visit and Catholic issues surrounding it. The camera man arrived at around 10am, spoke to Father Ryan about the filming and started to get ready. He informed Father that the interviewer was due at 10.30. He did not come at the stated time and the Mass began punctually without him. The camera man started filming. The interviewer, Robert Pigott arrived about seven minutes after 11 and so he did not speak to Father about any aspect of the filming. He escorted Penelope Middelboe to the front of the church and “planted” her in a prominent position in one of the pews. The camera man continued filming, pointing his camera at the congregation and Penelope Middelboe. Penelope Middelboe left the church during the service. I was standing at the back of the church, because I was distributing information packs for the papal visit to Compton Park.

I saw Robert Pigott interviewing her outside the church for a considerable amount of time while the Mass was still continuing. Sister Stephanie of the parish team asked me who Penelope was, as she did not recognise her as a parishioner. I said I didn’t know her either, even though I have been active in the parish all my life. After the interview Robert Pigott and Penelope Middelboe went to their car, so I went up to them, asked her if she was one of our parishioners and questioned whether she was representing the parish with her views. Robert Pigott dismissed me, answering that it was all right, he had Fr Joe Ryan’s permission. (I checked this with Father after Mass and he said he had given permission for the BBC to film the service in our church and speak to the parishioners but not to give a platform to any third party.) They both sat in the car till the service was over. Robert Pigott then got out and finished his report using the congregation leaving the church as a backdrop. He spoke briefly to Father Ryan excusing himself that he needed to take someone to the local tube station in a hurry and drove away with Penelope Middelboe without interviewing any parishioners. The camera man stayed behind and he asked a few parishioners to express their views on the role of women in the church and on the issue of celibacy.

In the report on the news I feel we were misrepresented in the following ways:

• Penelope Middelboe, of the newly created Catholic Voices for Reform ( May 2010) was shown attending the service at St John Vianney’s, including a close-up, and being interviewed outside the church, giving the impression that she was a parishioner and supposedly a spokesperson for the parish. (I do not understand why she was brought to St John Vianney’s when the interview could have been held elsewhere.)

• When the reporter Robert Pigott was speaking, parishioners were shown in the background leaving the church. He said: “The poll shows that large numbers of ordinary Catholics are, by disputing important teachings on issues like celibacy and the role of women, prepared to challenge the Pope’s view on exactly what the church’s message should be”.

The report does not show any of our parishioners expressing their opinions. So this could be understood that those parishioners who were filmed leaving the church shared the views of what the reporter referred to as ‘ordinary Catholics’.?

It pains and saddens me that I now have to question the integrity of the BBC. It deceived our parish priest and did not do what it had explicitly received permission for, which was to seek the opinions of parishioners at St John Vianney’s.

I hope that the BBC will provide fair and honest reporting of the Pope’s historic visit. On a personal note, I thank our Queen for inviting the Pope to the nation. I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Barbara O’Driscoll

* Several members of St John Vianney’s parish have spoken with ICN and endorsed Barbara's letter.

Tags: Barbara O'Driscoll, Mark Thompson, South Tottenham, St John Vianney

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