Will they? Won’t they? BBC to give due prominence to Reformation 500th anniversary?

Martin Luther on the BBC website
Martin Luther on the BBC website — but will he be on their home page this October?

31st October 2017 will be the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, one of the most important events in European and indeed world history. But will the BBC give this important anniversary due prominence on its home page?

It was on 31st October 1517 that Martin Luther famously posted his ’95 Theses’ onto the church door at Wittenberg — the event that triggered the Reformation.

I recently wrote a letter challenging the BBC to give due prominence to this anniversary on the home page of its website, in a similar way to how they did recently for the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 1967.

My letter to them ran as follows:—

Mr. Graham Harter
[address supplied]

BBC Complaints
PO Box 1922
Darlington
DL3 0UR

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Dear Sir/Madam,

firstly, allow me to take this opportunity to thank you for your very satisfactory response, ref. CAS-4439360-******, to my letter dated 15 June this year.

My reason for writing this time, is I would like to question the selection of editorial content displayed on the BBC Online homepage, specifically in relation to the recent display of editorial content celebrating the 1967 Sexual Offences Act which partially decriminalized male homosexuality in England and Wales.

Now, I fully understand that the passing of the above Act through Parliament and its subsequent Royal Assent on 27th July 1967 constitute an important cultural event in the UK, of which the fiftieth anniversary recently took place: and therefore I understand the BBC’s wish — indeed duty — to commemorate this significant cultural milestone.

Notwithstanding, I would like to question whether the amount of editorial coverage given to this event on the BBC’s homepage was proportionate.

My BBC homepage prominently displayed a banner showing numerous editorial articles celebrating this milestone and/or the flowering of gay and LGBT rights which has occurred in the UK subsequently, for what seemed to be weeks. It certainly started well before the anniversary of the Act’s Royal Assent on 27th July, and I was still seeing this banner and its associated stories at least several days into August.

I ought to say at this point, that I have deliberately not personalized my BBC homepage, precisely in order not to put myself into an echo chamber. For me it is an important principle of my internet usage that I expose myself to other points of view.

Now you may be aware that another important cultural anniversary is coming up on 31st October, namely, the five hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, when Martin Luther posted his ’95 Theses’ on the church door at Wittenberg.

“[The Reformation] transformed the way we think about the individual; about freedom of conscience; about family life; about education; about literacy. All this is before we even consider its theological impact: the redefinition of a person’s relationship to God.”

This is easily a more culturally significant anniversary than that of the 1967 Act. The Protestant Reformation had a global impact. It transformed the way we think about the individual; about freedom of conscience; about family life; about education; about literacy. The Reformation, with its emphasis on the Word of God, certainly greatly increased literacy levels throughout northern Europe. All this is before we even consider its theological impact: the redefinition of a person’s relationship to God, no longer through ‘the Church’ but through Jesus Christ.

Indeed, the transformation in human self-recognition which the Reformation brought about, paved the way, ultimately, for the rights which LGBT people enjoy today.

I hope therefore that BBC Online will be devoting at least as much attention, on its homepage, to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation as it did to the fiftieth of the Sexual Offences Act. Otherwise I will be necessarily led to conclude that the supposedly ideologically-neutral BBC, is actually promoting a deliberate left-wing agenda.

Yours sincerely,
Mr. Graham Harter

I subsequently received a very nice (if non-committal) reply from BBC Audience Services, Darlington. It ran as follows:—

24 August 2017

Dear Mr Harter

Reference CAS-4531218-******

Thank you for contacting us regarding our online coverage of the Gay Britannia season on the BBC website.

We understand that you feel there has been too much coverage of this issue.

The Gay Britannia season was commissioned to mark the 50th anniversary of The Sexual Offences Act 1967, which decriminalised homosexual acts in private between two men over the age of 21. This was a significant milestone in British social history and the season offers audiences the opportunity to reflect on how attitudes have changed in the 50 years since.

We know that not everyone will agree with how much prominence is given to certain items or stories that we cover. These decisions are made by our news editors, taking into consideration the editorial merit of the stories at hand, and we accept that not everyone will think that we are correct on each occasion.

Reply letter from BBC Audience Services to my question about their selection of online editorial content (Page 1)
Reply letter from BBC Audience Services to my question about their selection of online editorial content (Page 1)
Page 2 of the same
Page 2 of the same

“There are several factors that we take into consideration when putting together news bulletins, and assembling content for our BBC home page. For example, […] how much national interest there is in the story.”

BBC Audience Services

There are several factors that we take into consideration when putting together news bulletins, and assembling content for our BBC home page. For example, whether the story is new and requires immediate coverage, how unusual the story is, and how much national interest there is in the story.

These decisions are always judgement calls rather than an exact science, but we appreciate the feedback that our viewers and listeners give us when they feel a story has been overlooked or marginalised.

We appreciate that you would like to see an equal amount of coverage dedicated to the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Please rest assured that this, along with the rest of our [your?] points, has been added to our audience feedback report, which is compiled daily and sent to the BBC senior management and programme makers each morning.

These reports are amongst the widely read sources of feedback at the BBC, ensuring that your complaint gets seen promptly by the correct people. This helps inform their decisions about current and future output.

Many thanks, once again, for taking the time to get in touch.

Kind regards,

[Name]
BBC Complaints Team
www.bbc.co.uk/complaints

And so the question on my lips over the next few weeks will certainly be, Will the BBC actually be fair to the historical significance of this event and give it the attention it deserves?

Watch this space…

 

 

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